Native to South America, the huge, charismatically ugly cane toad was recruited in 1935 to combat a plague of greyback beetles, whose larvae were wreaking havoc on Queensland’s sugar cane. The industry was desperate – beetles had cut production by ninety percent in plague years – and resorted to seeding tadpoles in waterholes around Gordonvale. They thrived, but it soon became clear that toads couldn’t reach the adult insects (who never landed on the ground), and they didn’t burrow after the grubs. Instead they bred whenever possible, ate anything they could swallow, and killed potential predators with toxic secretions from their neck glands. Native wildlife suffered: birds learned to eat nontoxic parts, but snake populations have been seriously affected. Judging from the quantity of flattened carcasses on summer roads (running them over is an unofficial sport), there must be millions lurking in the canefields, and they’re gradually spreading into New South Wales and the Northern Territory – they arrived in Darwin, via Kakadu, in 2006. Given enough time, they seem certain to infiltrate most of the northern half of the country.

The toad’s outlaw character has generated a cult following, with its warty features and nature the subject of songs, toad races, T-shirt designs, a brand of beer and the award-winning film Cane Toads: An Unnatural History – worth seeing if you come across it on video. The record for the largest specimen goes to a 1.8-kilogram monster found in Mackay in 1988.

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