Early success in toxin trial to rid Fraser of cane toads

A SCIENTIFIC trial using cane toad venom against their own spawn could see the pests eradicated from Fraser Island, experts hope.

Led by University of Sydney School of Biological Sciences Professor Rick Shine, the trial was held on the World Heritage Island-listed earlier this month, and had "excellent results".

In a single day of the trial project, 10 traps caught more than 10,000 cane toad tadpoles.

Prof Shine told the Chronicle understanding the enemy was a key to developing effective weapons against toads.

"We learned that a toad tadpole's worst enemy is another toad tadpole, because they compete with each other for food in the ponds in which they develop," he said.

Prof Shine said toad tadpoles sought and consumed any newly-laid toad eggs before they posed a threat.

"We discovered that they do this by detecting faint traces of toad poison that dissolve out of the egg, which attracts them strongly," he said.

"As a result, a funnel trap baited with toad poison is very effective in catching toad tadpoles - often, many thousands of them."

Fraser Island's Waddy Point was chosen as a location for the trial due to the "ease of access to toad spawning sites".

Burnett Mary Regional Group chief executive Penny Hall said the trial was supported by many Fraser Island community members.

"Eradicating cane toads from the mainland is currently not feasible given the extent of their distribution and reproductive capacity," she said.

"On Fraser Island, however, this new and novel approach, and the ongoing support of the island's committed community members, will go a long way towards effectively controlling cane toad numbers with the aim being their eventual eradication."

Prof Shine's research assistant Chalene Bezzina spent a week with the BMRG, teaching them safe ways to use the methods.

"The results were excellent, as they have been across Australia in other trials," he said.

"The websites of community groups talk of catching over a million toad tadpoles using our method, in the first year it has been deployed."

And even better, native tadpoles go the other way - they are repelled by the toad poison.

Prof Shine said researchers didn't have any plans to visit Fraser Island again but they would be interested to see how well the toad-control fares.

>> Find out the RSPCA-approved method of getting rid of cane toads here

Toad facts

  • Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935 to control pest beetles in the sugar cane industry
  • They're native to Central and South America
  • A female toad can produce about 30,000 eggs in a single clutch