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Friday, January 17, 2014

Meet Mr. Kwapo!

Cane Toad (Bufo marinus)
Many St. Lucians at one time or another has had an encounter with Mr. Kwapo. That big ugly looking toad we’d probably say frog but actually it’s a toad. What most of us normally do as in the adults is to run get some salt and pelt at it hoping it will disappear and die. Younger people I suspect would just squeal and runaway and of course we were all warned to not let it send its milk in your eyes or else kwapo smoke your pipe.

Mr. Kwapo also called the cane toad (Bufo marinus) is native to Central and South America, but has been introduced to various islands in the Caribbean. In Saint Lucia they are typically found in agricultural areas, natural forests, ravines, urban and suburban areas, and wetlands. 

It was introduced to Saint Lucia as a biological control for insect pests. The toad is known to secrete a white toxic or poisonous liquid from it parotid glands when provoked or pressure is applied, such as a predator grasping the toad in its mouth. The toxic secretions can cause illness and death in both domestic and wild animals that come into contact with toads, such as dogs, cats, snakes and lizards. Cane toads are able to squirt the toxic secretion over a metre when threatened, causing extreme pain if rubbed into the eyes. Human fatalities have been recorded from the cane toad, following ingestion of the eggs or adults. This species is a carrier of the amphibian fungal disease chytridiomycosis.

The cane toad is a prolific breeder; females lay single-clump spawns with thousands of eggs in any shallow water nearby. It can reproduce anywhere from 8,000 to 35,000 eggs, which can be seen floating on the surface of water in a jelly-like string. Cane toads breed between the months of April and September, and males can be heard calling in late March.  Approximately 0.5% survives to maturity, which takes a year, by which time the toads are about 75mm long.

Its reproductive success is partly because of opportunistic feeding. Cane toads will eat almost any terrestrial animal, insects, lizards etc. but especially those active at ground level at night. They also feed on dead and decaying meat and even rice.

The only things at present that may pose a threat to these toads are probably the use of pesticides on banana plantations and other agricultural areas. Rats have been recorded preying on cane toads, but not at a large enough scale to impact populations.

St. Lucia Pygmy Gecko © M. Morton

St. Lucia Anolis (c) M. Morton
The kwapo is a bit of a nuisance an alien invasive since our endemic species such as the St.Lucia Pygmy Gecko and the St. Lucia Anolis seem to be a big part of its menu so there is definitely need to control its population. 

Article by: Forestry Department