Friday, February 17, 2006

The Toads Are Coming!

Australia's cane toads are evolving to hop faster. The better to eat our native wildlife, or so scientists theorise. It's the final insult in an uneven battle, pitting our ancient ecology against this product of the Amazon's Darwinian hothouse. One bite of them knocks any local predator dead, so the prospects of stemming the brown tide are dim. Some of our more enterprising raptors have learned to flip them over to avoid the venom glands, but it's not a betting chance.

As with every other introduced pest, the human ingenuity that brought them here from halfway round the world hasn't yet worked out how to kill them. Occasionally some pollie from the Deep North calls for taking up toad-bashing as a national bloodsport. I confess my first contact with them was mediated through golf clubs and a bottle of dettol. That was in Queensland, back when there was still talk of saving Kakadu from the little monsters; now the battle front hovers around the WA state line. Whacking Day-style pogroms will be hard to mount up in the Kimberley, so let's hope our cash-starved national researcher comes up with a sufficiently nasty germ that hurts nothing else.

On the plus side, they spawned a cult documentary that's my sole memorable moment from Year 12 biology. The toads, not the CSIRO.

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