'Embarrassing' truth behind Aussie woman's alarming backyard find

A species not native to Australia can present a huge problem for our environment and wildlife.

It's not every day your backyard becomes home to a potentially dangerous, ecological invader. But that appeared to be the reality for an Australian woman who made a worrying discovery in her garden over the weekend.

An unusual animal, resembling an amphibian or reptile, was spotted emerging from a pot hanging from the clothesline at her property in Buderim, Queensland. Unsure of what it was, the perplexed woman took to social media for answers.

"Is someone able to identify this little guy," the Queenslander wrote on Facebook alongside a photo which showed a slender neck and rounded head pop up from the greenery. However panic quickly set in for many when the discovery was thought to be a salamander, a type of toxic amphibian not found in Australia, which poses a major biosecurity threat.

Toy Salamander inside pot plant in Queensland garden.
The Queensland woman grew concerned after noticing what many identified as a salamander in her garden. Source: Facebook.

Unsual discovery raises concern on social media

Finding a species not native to Australia can present a huge problem for our environment and wildlife. Salamanders in Australia may pose a threat to native species if they were to establish and breed and they have the potential to carry disease and predate or compete with small native species —much like the invasive cane toads wreaking havoc across Queensland.

The severity of such a threat worried some Aussies who agreed it "looks like a salamander". "If that’s the case it definitely shouldn’t be here!" one pointed out online. "This is an exotic salamander," another agreed and urged to poster to "report this to your state's biosecurity team asap".

The shocked homeowner admitted she had "never seen anything like it before" and questioned what she should do with the animal that is mostly restricted to North and Central America. Others were just as astounded by the "unbelievable" discovery, and wondered how the animal managed to land in Australia — but the truth not long after unravelled.

'Embarrassing' twist

In a hilarious turn of events, the woman later learned the problematic salamander was just a toy her granddaughter had placed in the pot without her knowledge. She said she learned the truth after she "gloved up" and took a closer look.

The admission came after another man shared his suspicions on Facebook. "I thought I’d point out that it’s a toy from a Japanese capsule toy set, not a live salamander," he wrote on Saturday, less than an hour after the woman's original post.

The Queenslander admitted she was "really embarrassed" having raised unnecessary concern on social media. "It's so realistic though. Sorry to everyone. Was a bit excited for a while," she said.

Salamander toy set
It was later revealed the discovery was in fact a toy from a Japanese set (right) and was not a real salamander (left). Source: Getty/Facebook

Foreign species can prove problematic in Australia

Although a "positive outcome", Aussies had every right to be concerned, Reece Pianta from the Invasive Species Council told Yahoo News Australia. "If something like a salamander did get into Australia, it would have some pretty far-reaching impacts on food chains, on biodiversity," he explained.

Much like cane toads, a close relative, which have been able to "grow their population and dominate any area they inhabit", a sudden rise in salamanders could "lead to some imbalance in the ecosystems". Salamanders, like cane toads, are toxic and could prove deadly for predators who see them as food, so this could lead to the "dramatic decline" of some other native species.

In 2011 a small, localised population of smooth newts, which belongs to the amphibian family of salamanders and newts, was discovered in a pool of water at a Melbourne. Newts, native to large parts of Europe and western Asia, were originally brought to Australia for the aquarium pet trade, but it was thought to have escaped or were deliberately released into the wild.

"Removal of escaped or deliberately released smooth newts from both aquatic and terrestrial environments is expected to be extremely difficult and costly," Agriculture Victoria's website states. "For this reason, successful eradication of a population from the wild is extremely unlikely."

Aussies urged to 'always keep an eye out'

But "vigilance is key" according to Pianta who praised Aussies for raising concerns on social media — despite it turning out to be a false alarm. He said it's "good to always keep an eye out" when in your garden or out for a walk.

"If you see something that looks out of place, report it to the biosecurity hotline. The earlier you find these things, the more likely you are to deal with them," he said. "If it's a single salamander, it's very easy to deal with, but if it's many thousands of salamanders spread through different parts of the country, that becomes quite hard."

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