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NSW Cane Toad Discovery 'Extremely Alarming' Sign Of Southern Invasion

Fears are igniting that cane toads could be adjusting to colder climates in Australia, after one of the pests was found on the NSW central coast for the first time,

The toads are a well-known pest in Australia, leaving a trail of carnage in the form of native animals as they march across the country.

Deliberately introduced to Australia in 1935 to control destructive beetles in Queensland's sugarcane crops, cane toads have since spread as far west as Western Australia and south to Canberra.

But for the first time, a toad has been handed into the Australian Reptile Park, about an hour's drive north of Sydney.

The amphibian, now named 'Toad-Runner', was found sitting by a dam in Somersby on the NSW Central Coast and was captured by a local family.

It had been croaking, which researchers say meant he was looking for a female to breed with.

'Toad-Runner' was found in Somersby on the NSW Central Coast. Photo: Australian Reptile Park

Australian Reptile Park General Manager Tim Faulkner said the sighting is unnerving, especially because the cooler weather often works as a deterrent to the cane toads.

"They have caused major species to decline in Australia’s northern states and are a feral pest," he said on Thursday.

"It’s extremely alarming to see one here, and we can only hope it was a one-off incident and they haven’t been breeding.”

'Toad-Runner' was found in Somersby on the NSW Central Coast. Photo: Australian Reptile Park

He noted an influx of cane toads in the southern states could leave a number of native Australian species in danger.

"If they can adapt to the colder climates, many of our unique species are in serious peril," Faulkner said.

Should we be worried?

Cane toads eat almost anything they can swallow, from pet food to insects, with beetles, bees, ants, crickets and bugs making up most of their diet.

They are also dangerously poisonous. Their shoulder glands are full of very toxic poison which can kill larger native predators likes snakes, blue tongue lizards and even crocodiles.

But Rick Shine, a professor in biology at Macquarie University told 10 daily that while cane toads are being spotted further south, it's not a complete catastrophe.

"Toads have been here for 80 years now and nothing has gone extinct as a result," he said.

"Many native species aren't really affected by toads, many others benefit because the toad kills the big predators that were eating a lot of the smaller species."

A collection of toads in in Townsvill. Photo: Getty

"So yes, toads are a problem, they've certainly modified Australian systems and it would be wonderful if we could get rid of them but I don't think they rank in the sort of environmental catastrophes as feral cats or foxes," he continued.

According to Shine, many of the sightings, such as Toad-Runner, are usually the result of one or two who have hitched a ride on a building or landscaping truck from Brisbane or Byron Bay, and are unlikely to establish populations.

Do cane toads really have no predators?

Shine claimed this common claim is a "beat up", and that loads of native animals can eat cane toads with no problem.

"Most birds aren't affected by the toad poison and the hawks are very happy to pick at roadkill toads," he said.

"Rats absolutely love them. If we offer them toads in laboratory trials they'll just eat as many as we can give them. Chickens love to gobble them up as well".

Insects, ants and spiders also eat small toads.

He said the issue here is with the incredibly high rate of reproduction.

"A female can have up to 30,000 eggs in a single clutch, so the toads can replace themselves faster than they can be taken out of the system," Shine said.

A huge 20.5 cm toad caught in the Northern Territory in 2007. Photo: Getty
What is Australia doing to keep cane toad populations under control?

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson suggested Australia introduce a cane toad bounty, and that people on welfare payments or even young children should earn money by collecting the pests.

READ MORE: Pauline Hanson Wants To Introduce Cane Toad Bounty

READ MORE: Cane Toads Riding 3.5-Metre Python Apparently Trying To Get A Root

In January, Queensland MP Bob Katter suggested children pick up air-rifles and shoot the pest for 40 cents a toad.

“It’ll give a bit of fun for our kids and a bit of pocket money for them as well,” the crossbench MP said.

Not surprisingly, neither of those ideas gained much traction.

'Toad-Runner' was found in Somersby on the NSW Central Coast. Photo: Australian Reptile Park

Communities around the country are using chemicals which toads produce themselves as a poison.

"It can serve as bait and we put it in water bodies," Shine said.

"While the toads are attracted to the poison, it repels tadpoles of native frogs. It's very effective in eradicating cane toad tadpoles from native water bodies."

There have been a few victories in the war against the toad but the toads are still doing pretty well.

"I think the only hope we would have in massively reducing toad numbers would be involved in some of these new technologies with genetic manipulation, but whether the risk is worth the benefit is a really difficult issue," he said.

What to do if you see a cane toad

Firstly, make sure it is a cane toad and not a native frog and if it is confirmed it should be reported to the Office of Environment and Heritage

And most importantly, "even it looks like a toad, please don't kill it," Shine said.

As for Toad-Runner, he will be kept at the Australian Reptile Park "for educational purposes to live a long and happy life where we know he will not harm any of our native wildlife".

Contact author at kahill@networkten.com.au