Disturbing find inside cane toad 'raises alarm bells' for Australia

Two cane toads have been found within 600 metres of each other in Sydney, leading to a grim prediction.

“They could change life as we know it.”

That’s the grim reaction to the discovery of a cane toad in Greater Sydney in May by Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox.

It’s the second adult to be found within a 600-metre area of Kenthurst in the Hills district. “The fact that there’s been two in one area raises alarm bells,” he added.

A cane toad dead with its stomach open. A red circle around the hole.
A cane toad was found in Greater Sydney full of eggs. Source: Local Land Services

Mr Cox is concerned that if cane toads were to become established across the Sydney basin they could “impact heavily” on birds, reptiles, mammals and aquatic systems. But Sydney isn't the only location under threat.

What was found inside the Sydney cane toad?

Disturbingly the amphibian was discovered by Local Land Services to be full of eggs. Because one female can lay between 8000 and 35,000 eggs in one sitting, the species can quickly become established in new areas.

Cane toads were introduced by Australia’s sugar industry in 1935 as a misguided attempt to combat the country’s native cane beetle. They’ve now spread across Queensland, Northern Territory and into parts of Western Australia and NSW. Modelling suggests they could continue their march along the coast and almost reach the Victorian border.

A map of Australia showing where cane toads live now, and where they could spread.
Cane toads will continue to spread south towards Victoria. Source: Source: Kearney, M, Phillips, BL, Tracy, CR, Christian, KA, Betts, G & Porter

The Clarence River in northern NSW has long been regarded as the species’ southernmost limit. Stopping them from migrating closer to Sydney has been a “hard ask” despite the establishment of a biosecurity zone, Mr Cox believes. “There’s so many water sources, and they can easily move during flood periods.

Queensland invasives set to devastate Sydney

The nation’s warming climate will aid the southern migration of toads in the coming decades. Their presence is expected to be just one of a series of major changes set to impact the lives of Sydneysiders, as they're just one of several dangerous species set to spread from Queensland.

Highly venomous species like box jellyfish will likely call beaches across Newcastle, Sydney and even Wollongong home as water temperatures continue to rise.

A map of Australia showing where fire ants could spread.
Fire ants could spread to 99 per cent of mainland Australia. Source: Invasive Species Council

Fire ants are another pest species continuing to spread across Australia. The Invasive Species Council has warned if eradication from their Queensland stronghold is not successful, they have the potential to spread across 99 per cent of mainland Australia. You can learn more about their potential impact here.

The ants attack together and can leave dozens of painful bites on their victim’s skin, and in rare cases this can be fatal if anaphylaxis is triggered. Their presence could also have a devastating effect on Australia’s wildlife, and negatively contribute to the country’s biodiversity crisis.

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