Friday, March 30, 2007

Poisonous Loathesome Toad

I've been fascinated by the pictures of the toad found in Darwin recently. The frequent descriptions of it as the 'size of a small dog' has me imagining it being carried around in Paris Hilton's handbag, complete with a toady tiara.

More than that fetching picture that I've created for myself, however, I am reminded of growing up in far north Queensland where toads were the bane of one's daily existence.

As a child, I could never understand why a major character in The Wind in the Willows was a toad. That fact put me off enjoying the story in any substantial way, because it seemed such a strange thing to like a toad.

To any one who has been plagued by toads, they are not to be regarded as good-natured, though impulsive, anthropomorphised creatures; they are pestilence and terror.

Once, a friend of my mother's gave my sisters and I a box of clothes she was throwing out. We were very excited by the prospect of something new to wear and so, eagerly, began pulling the clothes out in order to press them against ourselves to check their fit. Before we had any opportunity to see if the clothes suited us, at least three toads leapt out of the box and scattered throughout the house.

As if the unpleasant surprise wasn't traumatic enough--our screams had my mother running to see who had died--then there was the awful task of trying to herd the toads out without actually touching one. (How those toadbusters manage to just pick them up, even with latex covered hands, I don't know. *Shudder*.)

At some point, I must have managed to capture a toad, and so touch one, because in my year 9, maybe 10, biology class we were asked to bring one in for a dissection exercise. It was explained to us that with such a ready supply of toads at hand it would be senseless for the school to source specially bred creatures for dissection. The teacher further suggested that we would be doing the environment a small favour by ridding it of the toads. (A suggestion that many of the boys took to with gusto and their cricket bats.)

So, with the native fauna preservation flag waving, I set about dissecting a toad. I saw its heart still apparently beating. We wondered why some toads were grossly overweight with fingers of fat down their sides. The teacher explained that it was on account of their diet. He predicted that if we opened the fat toad's stomach we would find dog or cat food, while the slimmer toads would have consumed fibrous insects.

That explained yet another daily battle with the toads that took place at my house. I had often shooed them away from the area where our dog fed, but assumed they were after his water. It had never occurred to me they were actually eating Buffy's food. Gross!

Since I moved to Brisbane, I have have rarely seen a toad, for which I am extremely grateful. They are of course in this part of the world, but not so much in the inner city suburbs where I have generally resided. Seeing the Darwin toad has made my skin crawl, no end. Still it's nice to be able to read these days that the kookaburras and crows of Australia have adapted to the poisonous invaders:
Their natural diet consists of mainly insects and small invertebrates as well as small snakes, frogs, lizards, rodents, and the occasional small bird. They have also been known to flip cane toads over and eat the toad’s insides out while cleverly avoiding the toad’s poison sacks.


Meredith said...

And, dear Galaxy, you have dealt with so many loathsome toads this week!

Kirsty said...

Yes, frightful creatures, all.

OTT said...

oh but I did chuckle at the image of toad with tiara!

When I was younger my brother and I used to go out toad tadpole killing. We were told - cannot remember by whom and therefore do not know how authoritative - the difference between frog spawn and toad spawn. Then we'd splash out all the water around the spawn, or spoon them out so they dried up.

yukky toads - all of them!

Clare said...

I saw this on the BBC news a couple of days ago - the man holding the monster seemed to squeeze it whereupon it made a nasty wheezy croak. The report said they were a nuisance but your account made me realise just how much.

Kirsty said...

Yes, Clare, they really are a problem. They were brought in from South America to control another pest, the cane beetle, which used to be the bane of the local cane farmers. But with no natural predators in Australia, the toads just got out of control and have been really harmful to the native fauna, not only pushing aside the lovely green tree frogs, but killing anything that tried to eat them, such as kookaburras and crows which are a protected species here.

And Oanh, the big toad might just get to wear a tiara, since they're keeping the monster alive for scientific purposes. There *is* an urgent need to know how it got so big. The thought of a plague of giant toads is surely something out of science fiction? Please?

Penni said...

Are we meant to like Toad (in Wind in the Willows)? I am not sure we are - he is far too vain and vulgar to really acheive pathos.

Kirsty said...

I probably didn't absorb the story all that well, Penni. I know one of my sisters insisted on watching an animated version on tv, but as soon as I saw the toad, I was out of there.