Cat food helps fight cane toads
Forget cricket bats, golf clubs and carbon dioxide - Australia has found a new weapon in its war on the dreaded cane toad: cat food.
Researchers with the University of Sydney found that a few tablespoons of cat food left next to ponds in the Northern Territory attracted fierce Australian meat ants, which then attack baby cane toads as they emerge from the water.
The results of the study were published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology this week.
It is the latest weapon in Australia's seemingly endless battle against the cane toad, which was introduced from Hawaii in 1935 in an unsuccessful attempt to control beetles on sugarcane plantations.
The toads bred rapidly and their millions-strong population now threatens many species across Australia.
Early cane toad killing methods included whacking the creatures with golf clubs or cricket bats. In recent years, most groups dedicated to fighting the pests have turned to freezing or gassing them with carbon dioxide. But the toads' population continues to explode.
Cane toads emit a poison that attacks the heart of would-be predators. But the University of Sydney researchers found that meat ants were impervious to the toads' poison, said Rick Shine, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sydney who supervised the research.
"A single toad can have 30,000 eggs in a clutch, so there's a heck of a lot of tadpoles turning into toads along the edge of a billabong," he said.
"You can literally have tens of thousands of toads emerging at pretty much the same time. They are vulnerable to meat ants if the colony discovers there is a source of free food."
Between July and September 2008, researchers studied tens of thousands of cane toads emerging from cat food-lined ponds and found that 98% of them were attacked by meat ants within two minutes. Of the toads that escaped, 80% died within a day from ant-inflicted injuries.