Native frogs not cane toads – identifying Australian native frogs

I admit it, I have been a frog and toad lover since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  When I was young, finding a frog, especially an unusual one,  was as exciting as finding a gold nugget.  Today I discovered an extremely useful and long overdue website, Frogs Not Canetoads.

For years clubbing toads has been a national sport.  Not something I personally endorse because toads can’t help being toads and even feral species deserve a humane demise when it can be easily arranged (not the case for cats, in particular – any way to exterminate feral cats is a good way because they are an out of control scourge which are exceedingly difficult to trap and poison – and they’re infinitely more environmentally damaging than toads).  Wacking a toad with a golf club is just an excuse for ugly behaviour – it’s just as easy and far more humane to drop a brick on a toad (or stick it into the freezer to induce a permanent sleep).

As it happens, apart from cats, invasive weeds are a far greater Australian environmental disaster than imported animals.   But there are a number of people hell-bent on encouraging as much rabid  cane toad hysteria as possible, backed up by a battalion of grant-seeking scientists pushing their own self-interest barrows.  Not only are these misguided evangelists squandering millions of dollars that could be so much more usefully spent on other conservation projects, but unfortunately, in addition to conveniently overlooking the recovery of native species within 1-2 decades of toad encroachment, those beating up mass panic have woefully neglected to educate the public about the similarities between some native frogs and imported cane toads. 

How many native frogs have been killed by unquestioning disciples because those on the rampage were totally unaware of the need to distinguish between several approximately similar looking species?  Countless quantities, I expect.  The unfortunate native frogs most likely to be mistaken for toads are burrowing frogs of similar colours and markings, in particular the striped burrowing frog, Cyclorana Alboguttata and ornate burrowing frog,  Opisthodon Ornatus.  The only reason I know about burrowing frogs is because we’ve lived in many rural areas where they are present, and I went on the hunt for information on all the species I located but had never seen before.  Pre-internet, this was difficult.  Now, excellent frog photographs and descriptions are easily found on the ‘native frogs not cane toads’ website.

The absence of the large, lumpy poison glands behind the eyes (in the upper neck region) is the easiest way to distinguish a native frog from a cane toad.

But it’s far smarter to err on the side of caution.  One more or less cane toad will make absolutely diddly squat difference to the overall cane toad population of northern Australia (the population naturally diminishes greatly in size and quantity over the years following the front line invasion anyway).  Whereas it would be a tragedy to kill any harmless burrowing frogs (who’ve spent months or years in an underground burrow waiting for rain)  in the mistaken belief that they were ferals.

The Frogs Not Toads  website has a number of other frogs on it, including the Holy Cross Toad, Notaden Bennetti.  I had the great good fortune to live in an area where these frogs live, west of Tambo (CW Qld).   The frog specialist I located said they had never been identified as living in this particular region (probably because I’m one of the few people happy to wander around on a pitch dark night in the rain, trying to creep up on calling frogs and turn the torch on them before they heard me and went quiet).  (I sent recordings of calls and photographs to have the frogs positively identified.)  Notaden Benneti are a truly special species.  Like all burrowing frogs, they only emerge from their burrows deep underground when there has been sufficient rainfall for them to breed in decent-sized pools of water.  These frogs are the only ones I know of that puff themselves up with air so they are like huge, beautifully studded balloons with tiny legs sticking out, floating around on top of the puddles, while calling out for girlfriends.  It’s sad to think I will never see these special frogs again, as you really need to live in the area and be there at night, immediately after a very large amount of rain (not the sort of rainfall that occurs on an annual basis; and this amount causes road closures).

Long live Australian native frogs, and I look forward to the day that feral cats and weed species such as rubbervine receive as much negative publicity, practical action and public funding as cane toads.

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