Before the birth of modern insecticides, farmers and gardeners used predatory and parasitic wasps and flies, insect-eating birds, lizards and toads as agents of biological control. In the late 19th century sugar cane scientists carried cane toads from Barbados to Puerto Rico, to Hawai'i and then Queensland to control pests. Toads were introduced to some 138 countries, and are now ranked among the world's most invasive species.
Queensland's sugar scientists released the toad into cane fields in 1935. They were supported by cane growers, politicians, the nation's leading scientists, the premier of Queensland and the prime minister of Australia. Only a lone voice objected. In the following 70 years they spread as far as western NSW and Western Australia.
This story is about good intentions and unintended catastrophic consequences. It is about scientists so committed to solving a problem, serving their country, their leaders and the industry that employed them, that they are blinkered to adverse impacts. There are lessons to learn from the toad's tale. And as the tale shows, we still come perilously close to repeating the mistakes of the past.
Nigel Turvey is an adjunct professor at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University.
Lift of figures
Preface: of toads and men
2. The apothecary’s toad
3. The sweet grass
4. Queensland sugar – Hope and Whish
5. Ladybird fantasy
6. The cane beetles
7. Hawai‘i leads biological control
8. Birth of a myth
9. Toad fantasy
10. Toads for Queensland
11. War on Canberra
12. Living with Bufo
13. Cane toad wars
14. Taking the Top End
'The richness of the scholarship of this engaging work comes from its traversing of the disciplinary divide, in much the same way the cane toad ignored the boundaries of the canefields of Queensland in the 1930s. Nigel Turvey offers us a biography of Bufo marinus, how it has come to be among us and the problem of the seemingly unending march – or colonisation – of the cane toad across northern Australia.'
Barney Glover Australian Forest Grower
'Turvey has produced a fascinating exploration into the history of a biological disaster. He has made excellent use of historical records to gain insight into the decision-making processes of the time, and of scientific publications to catalogue the stat of current research in cant toad biology and control.'
Adele Haythornthwaite Australian Zoologist
'He has delved into parliamentary records, correspondence between the sugar cane industry, the government and the pressure that was placed on scientists to give the government and industry the answer that they wanted and expected ... it is an account of what happens when industry pressures government along a predetermined road.'
Frogcall No. 131
'Turvey provides useful historical context for the decision to introduce
the cane toad into Australia and tells the story of its progressive
invasion of the country.'
Alison Haynes Austral Ecology
Size: 210 × 148 × 15 mm
10 colour illustrations and 24 b&w illustrations
Copyright: © 2013
Publication: 11 Oct 2013
Series: Animal Publics