Australia: How 'bin chickens' learnt to wash poisonous cane toads




  • In Science
  • 2022-11-25 02:10:26Z
  • By BBC
An ibis carrying a toad
An ibis carrying a toad  

There are few Australian animals more reviled than the white ibis.

It has earned the moniker "bin chicken" for its propensity to scavenge food from anywhere it can - messily raiding garbage and often stealing food right out of people's hands.

But the native bird may have figured out how to overhaul its bad reputation.

It has developed an "ingenious" method of eating one of the only animals Australians hate more - the cane toad, a toxic and pervasive pest.

First introduced to Australia in the 1930s, cane toads have no natural predators in the country and have wrought havoc on native animal populations.

The toad's skin contains venom which it releases when threatened, causing most animals that come into contact with it to die quickly of a heart attack.

Hence Emily Vincent's surprise when members of the community started sending her pictures and videos of ibis "playing" with the amphibians.

Ms Vincent, who runs the invasive species programmes at environment charity Watergum, says the behaviour has been reported up and down Australia's east coast.

"Ibis were flipping the toads about, throwing them in the air, and people just wondered what on earth they were doing," she told the BBC.

"After this they would always either wipe the toads in the wet grass, or they would go down to a water source nearby, and they would rinse the toads out."

She believes it is evidence of a "stress, wash and repeat" method that the birds have developed to rid the toads of their toxins before swallowing them whole.

"It really is quite amusing."

'Clever' birds

It isn't the first time birds have been spotted eating cane toads, Macquarie University Professor Rick Shine told the BBC.

They seem to be less susceptible to the poison than other animals, like snakes, mammals or crocodiles.

An ibis carrying a toad
An ibis carrying a toad  

But they can still die from too much of it and it tastes "awful", Prof Shine says.

So as the species spread across Australia, birds like hawks and crows rather quickly figured out how to eat around the poison glands on their shoulder.

They would flip the toads on their back and rip out their insides, leaving the glands untouched.

But this is the first time Prof Shine - who has studied toads for 20 years - has heard of birds using a method like this to eat them whole.

"Ibis do get an unfair reputation... [but] this demonstrates that these are clever birds," Ms Vincent says.

"They've actually forced the cane toad to get rid of the toxin itself, they haven't had to mutilate it in any way. The cane toad is doing all the work for them."

Population control

Professor Shine and Ms Vincent both say it is a promising sign that native animals are learning to adapt to the toads, which are now estimated to number over 2 billion.

Some species are slowly recognising the pests are "a very bad choice for lunch" and there are suggestions others are undergoing genetic changes that leave them less susceptible to the poison.

And then there are animals like the ibis that have worked out how to eat toads safely, which could help bring the population back under control.

"They've got an incredible breeding capacity... so with every female cane toad that's removed from the environment, it's the prevention of up to 70,000 new cane toads each year," Ms Vincent says.

Cane toad
Cane toad  

Most of the heavy lifting is being done by animals that Australia loves to hate - like the ibis, rodents or ants - Prof Shine says.

"All of those animals are actually doing a wonderful job as an unseen army that are reducing the numbers of cane toads every year," Professor Shine says.

"So we really should be grateful for some of these unloved Australians."

You may also be interested in:

COMMENTS

More Related News

Fans Explode With Pride as Argentina Advances to Quarterfinals Following 2-1 Victory Over Australia
Fans Explode With Pride as Argentina Advances to Quarterfinals Following 2-1 Victory Over Australia

Argentine fans are going crazy now that Lionel Messi and the Blue and Whites clinched a victory over Australia in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Lets see how people are reacting.

Bipartisan group of Australian MPs to visit Taiwan from Sunday - The Australian
Bipartisan group of Australian MPs to visit Taiwan from Sunday - The Australian

A group of Australian federal politicians will on Sunday fly to Taiwan for a five-day visit aimed at conveying Australia's wish to maintain peace in the Indo...

Endangered listing for Nevada toad in geothermal power fight
Endangered listing for Nevada toad in geothermal power fight
  • World
  • 2022-12-02 21:28:48Z

A tiny Nevada toad at the center of a legal battle over a geothermal power project has officially been declared an endangered species after U.S. wildlife...

Asia Stocks Set for Mixed Open With Jobs in Focus: Markets Wrap
Asia Stocks Set for Mixed Open With Jobs in Focus: Markets Wrap

(Bloomberg) -- Stocks edged lower in Asia after US equities struggled for direction, with traders awaiting a jobs report later Friday for clues on the...

Hackers dump more customer data from Australian insurer Medibank
Hackers dump more customer data from Australian insurer Medibank
  • US
  • 2022-12-01 01:13:11Z

Australia's biggest health insurer, Medibank Private Ltd,, said on Thursday that hackers had released more of its stolen medical records, as media reported...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Science