Cane Toad Threat Spreads to Caribbean

Cane toads, one of the world’s most destructive invasive species, have started killing native wildlife outside of Australia; scientists have documented the poisonous cane toad killing rare native fauna in the Caribbean.

Cane toads secrete a powerful bufogenin toxin that kills predators not adapted to eat them, and as a result the toads have caused a decline in native Australian reptiles and marsupials. Now the toads are also killing boa snakes in the West Indies, suggesting that other predators in the Caribbean and elsewhere may also be at risk.

These toads are found from northern South America through Central America and into the southern United States. In the early to mid 19th century, the toad was intentionally introduced to islands in the Caribbean and the South Pacific in order to control pests affecting sugar cane plantations, including rats and beetles. However, the toad has had a destructive impact in many places where it has spread, out-competing native species.

Dr. Byron Wilson, at the University of West Indies-Mona in Jamaica, and his colleagues there and in the United States have found numerous examples of cane toads poisoning Jamaican boas (Epicrates subflavus), large predatory snakes that are endemic to the island of Jamaica and are already rare. There is worry that other species in Jamaica and on other Caribbean islands are at risk from bufotoxin poisoning.

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