While most foreign guests can generally be relied on to have a terrible fear and respect of all the horrible and dangerous things in the Costa Rican jungle, this is not the case for Australians. Australia might just be the least human-friendly continent on the planet, or so I can presume from its tourists abroad, whose reactions to my stories of deadly snakes and hungry crocodiles illicit–at best–boredom, or–at worst–mirth. They’re some tough blokes, is what I’m saying.
But I have found their kryptonite, their one true fear, their Achilles heel: Giant Toads.
Not just any large toads, mind. But Giant Toads, widely known as Cane Toads or formerly as Marine Toads until someone wisely split up the widespread species with more logical names. The ones here are Rhinella horriblis, an appropriate name for a generally unpleasant-looking animal, all brown and warty and bloated. I’ve mentioned them before. Slightly toxic, they are usually fairly aloof and bold and inflate themselves when threatened when they aren’t grudgingly hopping out of the way. And they were introduced to many countries including Australia to control Cane Beetles (thus the former name) where they have caused an out-of-control invasion.
The awful little bastards breed rapidly and outcompete whatever native species they aren’t stuffing into their mouths. Towns are now suffering literal Biblical plagues, only Egypt didn’t have frogs this ugly. They’ve earned themselves a disgusting reputation in Australians’ hearts, which are already pretty hardened by killer snakes, crocodiles, sharks, jellyfish, octopus, and whatever else that country can throw at them.
But here, they’re perfectly at home in our ecosystem and outdoor patios, where they hop along in search of large insects and smaller frogs. They’re more of a curiosity than a menace. Kids grow up playing with them, and dogs have learned to avoid them.
Last night during a night walk to a nearby river we stumbled across a few hundred of them breeding in a little lagoon. The water was full of writhing bodies and sticky strands of eggs. We watched as egrets and night herons plucked them from the pools and mud, choking them down whole. Not even I had seen so many at once.
And the one Australian in our group? Couldn’t stop shuddering. I tried not to enjoy my victory. Not too much, at least. Although I did point out that all the eggs meant we were in for a few thousand more in a few weeks, all just hopping around like the they belong here. Which they do.