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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Australia's cane toads love the nightlife

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Poisonous and ugly, Australia's cane toads are also suckers for nightlife.

Researchers looking for ways to eradicate the toxic toads, introduced from Hawaii in 1935 and now an environmental menace, have found a way to trap them using ultra-violet "disco" lights.

The pests have spread in their millions across the tropical north. Cane toads, some as big as dinner plates, can even kill crocodiles and wild dogs with their hallucinogenic venom.

Australian scientists have tried for four decades to find a way to eradicate them, with only limited success.

Residents of Queensland state and the Northern Territory have even resorted to golf clubs and cricket bats.

But researchers in the Northern Territory have found that ultra-violet "disco lights" are a great way to attract cane toads so that they can be trapped.

After experimenting with red and then blue lights, Australia's Frogwatch "Toad Buster" project found that the "black" light was the most effective way to attract them.

"We've found that the old toads are definitely a disco animal," Frogwatch coordinator Graham Sawyer told reporters.

He said 200 of the toads were caught in a three-week project using the disco lights at a remote station about 120 km (75 miles) south of the Northern Territory capital, Darwin.

About 1,500 toads had been trapped since January, Sawyer said.

He said it appeared that part of the attraction for the toads seemed to be the swarms of insects that the lights brought.

The lights were placed inside toad traps with one-way doors.

Cane toads were introduced 70 years ago in a bid to fight greyback beetles, which were threatening Australia's northern sugar cane fields.

They now number in the millions and have so far defied attempts to control or eradicate them. Female cane toads can lay 8,000 to 35,000 eggs at a time and may produce two clutches a year. The toads reach maturity within a year and have a lifespan of at least five years.

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