Poisonous Asian toad discovered near suburban Aussie train station

The toads are common in Bali and Thailand and pose a serious threat to Australia's native animals.

A priority pest alert has been issued by authorities after an invasive toad was discovered by a man walking near a suburban train station.

Discovered close to a golf course, on a trail that runs alongside railway tracks in Melbourne’s southeast, the Asian black-spined toad was in “poor condition” according to Agriculture Victoria who disposed of the amphibian after it died.

The agency's biosecurity manager Adam Kay described the species as “widespread and abundant” in countries directly north of Australia, including Bali, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea. Since 1999, authorities have found 18 Asian black-spined toads across the state but they have never become established in the wild.

The Asian black-spined toad (pictured) was discovered near Huntingdale Station. Source: Agriculture Victoria
The Asian black-spined toad (pictured) was discovered near Huntingdale Station. Source: Agriculture Victoria

Like cane toads, the Asian black-spined toad excretes a milky substance when it is disturbed that can harm and kill native animals.

Why Asian black-spined toads are dangerous to Australia

Since cane toads were intentionally introduced into Queensland in the 1930s, they have spread to the Northern Territory, Western Australia and NSW. In December, residents were in disbelief as they reported "millions" of juvenile toads had infested a Gold Coast street.

A Melbourne resident discovered the toad on a track in Huntingdale. Source: Google Earth
A Melbourne resident discovered the toad on a track in Huntingdale. Source: Google Earth

It’s only this century that native animals like ibis and rakali have been observed working out how to dissect the toad's poison glands so they don’t get sick when eating them.

In a statement, Kay said the toads pose a “serious biosecurity threat” and authorities are seeking help from the Huntingdale community to determine how the animal made it onto Djerring Trail near Huntingdale train station.

“They do not naturally occur in the wild within Australia, however, the species is frequently intercepted at Australian borders in shipping containers and in personal luggage as stowaways,” Kay said.

“They are poisonous, and compete with native species for food and habitat, with the potential to cause environmental impacts like those of the cane toad in Queensland.”

Why was the invasive toad in Australia?

In a response to questions from Yahoo News Australia about whether the toad was genetically tested to determine its source, Agriculture Victoria said the animals usually enter the country as stowaways, rather than as pets.

"Asian Black-spined toads are stowaways, coming into Australia in people’s luggage or via cargo and shipping containers," Kay said in a statement.

"Genetic testing can be useful in certain situations, including when it’s critical to determine a link between different animal populations, however this is more relevant with the illegal exotic animal trade rather than with those known to be stowaways.

"In this instance, there was no doubt that the species in question was an Asian Black-spined toad, so no further testing was required to confirm identification."

A chart showing a toad on a white background and some of its key characteristics
Authorities have released an image detailing key characteristics of the toad. Source: Agriculture Victoria

Flood of invasive species breach Aussie boarders

When news of the discovery spread to online conservation forums, many were not surprised.

“Oh dear, more unwanted biosecurity, slip ups,” one person wrote. “Penalties are not serve enough to deter people bringing things into this country, they need to be lifted significantly,” another said.

The discovery of the toad is just one of many recent biosecurity breaches in Australia. Advocacy groups like the Invasive Species Council have urged state and federal governments to do more to strengthen the nation’s biosecurity.

The Varroa mite has spread rapidly across NSW, threatening honey bee hives, since it was discovered at a Newcastle port in 2022.

Meanwhile Queensland and Commonwealth authorities have failed to stop the invasion of fire ants which have been described as a "global super pest" and are on the verge of becoming an established pest species in Australia.

In Tasmania, a small colony of China fir borers was discovered inside a bed bought at Harvey Norman in 2023, although action taken by the customer’s prevented them from escaping into the wild. The retailer did not respond to questions about the incident at the time.

If you see an Asian black-spined toad, you can report it here.

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