Monday, February 25, 2008

Toad You So

On the great island of Madagascar, fossils of a gigantic amphibian were recently discovered. This was no ordinary cute froggy but a heavily armored, bowling ball sized toad with sharp teeth. Living at the age of the dinosaurs, it needed the protection from big predators, but probably was a mighty beast of its own, able to dine on young hatchlings of its big distant cousins. Scientists have given it a suitable name: Beelzebufo or ‘Devil’s Toad’. It the middle picture is an artist’s rendition of the creature, compared to its largest present day relative, the Malagazy Frog. The lack of any such specimen on the African continent questions some accepted theories about when the island separated from the mainland. So far it also seems that this monster toad is related to South American horned frogs.

On the right is a picture of a Giant or Cane Toad, recently caught in Australia and weighing over two pounds. The biggest known specimen reached 5.8 lbs! This very toxic ‘toadzilla’ was introduced to that continent in an experiment that didn’t end nicely. In 1935 the hundred and one Bufo Marinus toads took a liking to Queensland and in six months had multiplied to over 60,000. Initially they were supposed to help the local sugar industry get rid of two pests, both beetles. Soon the cure became the illness, however, and today the country’s wildlife officials have their hands full trying to control this outright dangerous amphibian from spreading any further. Even its tadpoles are highly poisonous and most of the species that dine on the harmless variety, end up dead after consuming these. Interestingly, one of the toxins the toad excretes, bufotenin, is classified as Schedule I drug in Australia, together with heroin and cocaine. Most of the other toxins don’t give a potential toad licker a desired high; instead the person might well end up in the morgue.

When I first looked at the pictures, I could have sworn there was something familiar about them and decided to complete the picture. Another type of ‘Cane Toad’, pictured on a postcard a friend and colleague sent me, is a fitting addition to the group. I call it the ‘conductor toad trinity’, a three-in-one. One frog-leg taps in one tempo, the cane or baton goes in another and the Beelzebufo’s tooth-filled mouth counts out loud the beats yet in another, none of those ever synchronized. What is the poor musician to do? Some try to lick the toad you-know-where. Perhaps it will give them a temporary high but sooner or later they all end up dead.

I toad you so.

"Beelzebufo" illustration by Luci Betti-Nash
AP Photo/ Dan Klores Communications