How to Humanely Dispose of Cane Toads

So What Can Be Done About Toads?

Update April 2013: My, how things change! Back in the 1980's, Australia gained notoriety overseas for its "creative" ways of getting rid of cane toads. That is not the case anymore. The new "standard" of humane disposal is extremely limited and basically limits what the public is able to do. See below for an explanation.

Before you don your "riot gear" and head out the door to wage your own little war on the cane toad, we need to point out that toads should only be disposed of if you are in an area where the Marine toad (cane toad - Bufo marinus) IS an introduced pest. There are more than 200 species of Bufo worldwide and most of these are not pests - in fact, many are endangered. Some Bufo species look like the cane toad as well so the European toad (Bufo bufo) and the American toad (Bufo americanus) for example, should NOT be hunted down and eliminated. This disposal page is mostly for Australian use so if you are Australian, read on! (By the way, the cane toad is no longer classified as a pest in QLD so it is up to you as to whether you take any steps to exclude or remove them.)

If you are concerned about the toad numbers on your property, two ways that are still considered acceptable for getting rid of them are:

  • to dispose of their eggs instead of going after adults/juveniles
  • to join in an organised collection where the toads are turned over unharmed to someone who has training and special equipment (CO2) for killing them

Purchase of a chemical (HopStop) has also been approved as humane but yet the considerations for the domestic use of this chemical are extensive (see below for excerpts from the University of Wollongong's trial). As always, our view is that chemicals are not "our friends" and should only be used as the last resort possible after other methods have been proven not to work.

How to dispose of toads is something that some locals look upon as a creative exercise based on the Gary Larson notion 'how many ways can you skin a cat'. We have heard some horrible accounts of what is done to toads just because they are a pest. However, just because the toad is a pest, this is NO EXCUSE for animal cruelty and sadism. The toad doesn't know it's a pest and it feels pain like all other living animals. Cane toads should be killed humanely and this means methods which invoke the least amount of pain and stress.

We recently found a large toad while surveying for frogs in Cairns. Whatever happened to this toad was a mystery until we had it checked by a vet, but our first sight of it shocked us so much that it took our breath away. Nothing illustrates a point like photos:

The eye on the left was damaged and fused to the surrounding skin; the right eye was burnt out entirely and the surrounding skin continued to dissolve after the eye was gone. The vet's conclusion was that a caustic chemical was sprayed into the eyes of this toad. No other damage was seen on the body and, of course, the toad was in intense pain and left to suffer for a long time. This kind of behaviour is vile and unacceptable -- pest or not.

  • Don't use clubs or sticks to bash cane toads or grab toads by their legs and bash them against objects. There is a risk to you as well as being a cruel means to kill the toad. Most of the poison in a cane toad is concentrated in two raised areas just behind it's eyes called paratoid glands. If you bash a toad and rupture either of those glands, the toxic fluid can splatter you. If any of this should get into your eyes, you will lose your sight for several days and need medical attention.
  • Don't spray chemicals on them such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide or Dettol. These have a reputation of a fast kill but the reality is that not all of them actually kill the toad outright. The amount of pain they do cause is unacceptable. Hydrogen peroxide is an acid; bleach is an irritant and Dettol works by short-circuiting the central nervous system (the sensation is probably similar to being electrocuted). If you should spray something which turns out to be a burrowing frog instead of a toad, this leads to a painful death for the frog. We strongly discourage the use of chemicals but for those who are aggro enough to persist, do not touch any frogs you find once you have held the chemical container in your hands. The slightest residues of these chemicals in your skin will still cause death for the frog and it will take a long time to do it.
  • New products need to be investigated before you "jump on the bandwagon". We have met with the marketing team for the recent product HopStop but are not prepared to recommend it at this time. We need more information about this spray including the ingredients, how it works physiologically, and what consequences it might have on soil health, water runoff and impacts on non-target species.
  • Many Australians consider running over toads with their cars to be a sport worthy of an Olympic medal. However, swerving on the road is not a safe way to drive and mistaken identity is common. Some frogs will sit on the road looking very much like a toad and their colouration doesn't always display well when hit with very bright headlights.

The easiest and most humane way to eliminate toads is to get rid of them at their egg stage. Pull the long strings of toad eggs out of the water and dispose of them by either putting them into your compost bin, burying them in the garden or leaving them on the lawn to dry in the sun. (See our Toad Eggs page for identification.)

The most humane way to kill juvenile and adult cane toads is to catch them and put them into a secure container with air holes (plastic takeaway food containers are ideal). Put the container in a refrigerator overnight which causes the toad to go into a coma-like state. Then move the container to the freezer the next morning and freeze until the next garbage collection day or freeze it for a couple days and then bury them in the backyard compost bin or garden bed.

It is perfectly safe to store the toads in the fridge and freezer and we do this at home all the time. If you get together with your neighbors to clear toads from your street, one of them might have an old spare freezer which can be used by several homes. Another benefit to having to catch the toads is that you can examine them according to the characteristics shown in our 'Make No Mistake' page to make sure they are definitely toads and not a species of ground dwelling frog. And one more benefit to catching the toads is that you can help us study them by turning in ones you find which are sick or deformed. (see our page on Illnesses and deformities!)

Many people are afraid to touch cane toads. However, their skin is dry and they don't release any fluid from their glands unless you hit them or handle them very roughly. Remember, in the early days, adults and children used to keep cane toads as pets and they handled them all the time without problems. We used to have a moderate size toad here named Petunia who was handled all the time and taken to talks (she died from an airbourne disease that came in the door with a sick frog). Even Glen Ingram, a Curator of the Queensland Museum, had a huge pet toad named Betty who weighed well over 4 kilos! However, it is still best (because of bacterial diseases) to handle ALL toads with gloves or a plastic bag over your hand.

A last thought: when you next think of how you will kill the toads in your yard, ask yourself if you would kill an Australian frog that way. If it is inhumane for the frog, it is inhumane for the toad!

Hopstop is now available in Cairns. However, don't be so fast to rush out and buy it. We have some questions about how this product works which the company's own marketing representatives could not answer for us.. There is a blanket principle here that gets used over and over again: use the chemical first and then find out later if you can fix the damage it causes (some excellent examples are asbestos, DDT and atrazine). Some questions we think you should know the answers to before using this product are:

  • It is in a can so what is the propellant agent to disburse it (aerosol or something else)?
  • What if you or your children get it on your hands or in your eyes? The guy in the Cairns Post photo (March 1st, 2011) isn't wearing gloves or a mask but, as a spray product, I would imagine you should be wearing these things to use it. Has it been tested for adults or children with allergies and asthma? (According to Wikipedia, the active ingredient (chloroxylene) is an irritant and can cause allergic reactions in some people. It also says the stuff is extremely toxic to fish so you never want to use it near waterways or ponds or any slope which will flow into a pond in the next rain.)
  • What happens if it is accidentally sprayed on the wrong target? While spraying a moving toad, a lot of ground vegetation and soil will be sprayed - what happens to soil ph and plants which are sprayed?
  • How exactly does it kill the toad? It uses the same chemical (chloroxylene) as in Dettol. If it works the same way on toads as Dettol does (which is to paralyse the victim until it runs out of oxygen), then it is NOT humane.

From the Chemistry database:

Chloroxylene
CAS Number: 25323-41-5
Synonyms/Related:
Benzene, 1-chloro-2,3-dimethyl-
Benzene, chlorodimethyl-

Checking through chemical databases on benzene derived chemicals (such as this one) will yield a lot of information on why you want to avoid these chemicals - start with chlorobenzene in Wikipedia for a more simple explanation.

The bottom line is that if you want to get rid of toads without creating more problems for the environment or for your own health, DON'T use chemicals! It is better to use the other recommendations in the middle of this page.