CanNibalistic tadpoles

Photo by Chris F on

Certain toads living in Australia possess toxins that are changing. Normally, they live in South or Central American cane fields. These cane toads have overcome Australian amphibians, several species of birds and insects. They’ve virtually wiped them out. These vicious interlopers are more than invasive. They’ve become cannibalistic.

Their cousins, the frogs down under, have been virtually banished from their own lands. But the cane toads have a new enemy. Their own tadpoles have been decimating clusters of gently swaying cane toad eggs.

A male cane toad ready for mating.

These unhatched baby siblings, if allowed to live, will first turn into the voracious elder tadpoles and then grow up into lumpy adults. Thick with malice, grown male cane toads are a gorgeous tan and black speckled with luminous, grey-black eyes. The mom toad is much larger, a darker, honeyed brown with gentle, golden eyes. Their eggs are delicate, transparent and filled with toxins that burst out upon hatching, drawing tadpoles near to feast hungrily on their woefully scribbled brethren.

The toxins drive cane toad tadpoles into a cannibalistic frenzy. Scientists have tempted them with other species’ eggs. No dice–the tadpole will invariably make a lunge to cane toad eggs over all others. Other eggs find the finicky tadpoles desultorily nibbling like a fastidious teen girl on a date. Cane toads in captivity will eat anything and can grow up to ten inches long and weigh in at nine pounds. The only toad in Australia, cane toads have killed nearly all the frogs they met. And now they have become a threat to themselves and thus evolved to eat their own eggs and babies.

This is evolution at hyper speed. Scientists try to look concerned but are slavering. Tadpoles are neck-and-neck with these eggs (even though neither does, of course, have any neck to speak of) because the eggs are evolving to fight off their ravenous elders by producing even more noxious toxins to poison the tadpoles even as they feast.

There are so many metaphors one may be tempted to use. We could anthropomorphize these bulbous critters ad nauseam. If you held a larger one in your hand, you would feel its heavy insides sloshing as it jumped to escape. You’d need to wash your hands right away. Cane toad toxins can blind or sicken even the burliest of women.

Bow chicka bow bow

In our human ferocity for meaning we could ingest the cane toad’s secret message to our species but in so doing, would dilute their right to their own, bloodthirsty dignity. Everything is not a mirror to human madness. Nature keeps her own counsel. She mumbles to herself and only fools call that a prayer for our own safety. In broad daylight, in water, in air; creeping, crawling, swimming and leaping, fangs bared, she moves in concentric circles that spell nothing. She has an inexorable right to her own hungers, her own measured pace into the abyss without the dissecting, discerning blade of metaphor. Terrible only by our lights, darkened by our blindness to her beauty, a lumpy terror of a toad giving birth to vicious commas of need. Who am I to judge? Except to say, all and every day, her hunger for life in every form is as fragrant and beautiful as a rose.

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