A solution to Australia’s toad problem?
Cane toads, bufo marinus, come originally from Brazil. They were imported into Australia in the hope that they would eat cane beetles, which attack Australia’s sugar cane crop. They did eat some cane beetles but they ate lots else besides — including small rodents, reptiles, other amphibians, birds, and even bats.
So they have now proliferated mightily. They threaten the survival of many native species and are poisonous — so they kill birds and dogs which are unwary enough to eat them.
Much has been tried to reduce their numbers but nothing works well. Though some predators have emerged. The snake described below might be just what we need.
Pity the toads that encounter Asian kukri snakes in Thailand. These snakes use enlarged, knifelike teeth in their upper jaws to slash and disembowel toad prey, plunging their heads into the abdominal cavities and feasting on the organs one at a time while the toads are still alive, leaving the rest of the corpse untouched.
While you’re recovering from the horror of that sentence, “perhaps you’d be pleased to know that kukri snakes are, thankfully, harmless to humans,” amateur herpetologist and naturalist Henrik Bringsøe, lead author in a new study describing the gruesome technique, said in a statement.
This grisly dining habit was previously unknown in snakes; while some rip chunks from their prey, most snakes gulp down their meals whole. Scientists had never before seen a snake Bury its head inside an animal’s body to slurp up organs — sometimes taking hours to do so, Bringsøe and his colleagues reported.
The victims of this horrific organ-slurping were poisonous toads called Duttaphrynus melanostictus, also known as Asian common toads or Asian black-spotted toads; they are stout and thick-skinned, measuring about 2 to 3 inches (57 to 85 millimeters) in length, according to Animal Diversity Web (ADW), a wildlife database maintained by the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology. During the deadly battle, the toads fought “vigorously” for their lives, with some defensively secreting a toxic white substance, according to the study. The snakes’ grisly evisceration strategy could be a way to avoid the toad’s poisonous secretions while still enjoying a tasty meal, the researchers wrote.
Kukri snakes in the Oligodon genus are so named because their slashing teeth resemble the kukri, a forward-curving machete from Nepal. While kukri snakes aren’t a threat to people, their teeth can cause painful lacerations that bleed heavily, because the snakes secrete an anticoagulant from specialized oral glands, according to the study.
“This secretion, produced by two glands, called Duvernoy’s glands and located behind the eyes of the snakes, are likely beneficial while the snakes spend hours extracting toad organs,” Bringsøe explained.
The researchers described three observations in Thailand of kukri snakes (Oligodon fasciolatus), which can measure up to 45 inches (115 centimeters) long, consuming Asian common toads. In the first incident, which took place in 2016, the toad was already dead when the witnesses discovered the scene, “but the soil around the two animals was bloody, indicating there had been a fight which eventually killed the toad,” the scientists wrote. The snake sawed through the toad’s body by swinging its head from side to side; it then slowly inserted its head into the wound “and subsequently it pulled out organs like liver, heart, lung and part of the gastrointestinal tract.”
In a second event, an epic battle between a kukri snake and a toad on April 22, 2020 lasted nearly three hours; the snake attacked, withdrew, and attacked again, deterred only temporarily by the toad’s poison defense. After finally subduing the toad, the snake extracted and swallowed organs while the toad was still breathing, according to the study.
On June 5, 2020, a kukri snake took a different approach and didn’t disembowel the toad at all, instead devouring it whole. But in a fourth observation this year on June 19, the snake eviscerated its toad prey, slicing into the abdomen to reach its organ meal.
Young toads potentially produce less poison than adults do, which may have enabled the snake in the June 5 observation to safely gulp it down in one piece; another possibility is that kukri snakes are immune to the toad species’ toxins, but they disembowel adults anyway because the toads are simply too big for them to swallow, the researchers reported.
However, there’s not yet enough data to answer these questions, Bringsøe said in the statement.
“We will continue to observe and report on these fascinating snakes in the hope that we will uncover further interesting aspects of their biology,” he said.
The findings were published online Sept. 11 in the journal Herpetozoa.
African child snatcher
A young mother has spoken of the terrifying moment a stranger snatched her two-year-old daughter and tried to pull her away while she was riding her tricycle to childcare.
Rebekah, 32, was cycling with her daughter Keirah, 2, and Brodie, 5, in Harkness in Melbourne’s far-west at 9.20am on Tuesday when she saw a man grab her youngest child – who had been riding behind her family.
The would-be abductor only let go of Keirah and ran off towards a nearby primary school when Rebekah chased him down suburban Weeks Avenue on her bicycle.
‘My son wanted to race me so I sped off with him. Keirah wasn’t far behind me – but when I stopped and turned around I saw there was this man grabbing my daughter and spinning her around,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
The mother said she and her children had never felt like they were in danger in their neighbourhood until Tuesday.
CCTV footage showed the man – who is described as being of African appearance, in his early 20s, wearing dark clothes and a white baseball cap but no mask – stood beside the child before bending down to her height.
Seconds before the offender grabbed the young girl, he had calmly walked past her mother and her brother – raising no alarm bells for Rebekah who thought he was just a normal pedestrian.
Rebekah said the youngster bravely went to childcare despite what happened, but struggled to sleep on Tuesday night.
‘She was scared the man was going to come and get her again so her dad had to lie with her to get her to go to sleep,’ Rebekah said.
Victoria Police said on Wednesday they were increasing patrols in the Harkness area and are treating the incident as ‘extremely serious’.
Australian scientists insist hydroxychloroquine COULD prevent people catching COVID-19 after giving the controversial drug to hundreds of health care workers
Australian scientists have vowed to continue investigating whether taking hydroxychloroquine can stop people becoming infected with coronavirus.
Researchers from the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne believe the drug could prevent people catching SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.
Hundreds of health workers in NSW and Victoria have been given the drug in the Institute’s COVID SHIELD trial in an effort to try and determine its effectiveness as a prophylactic.
Hydroxychloroquine was brought to public attention when US President Donald Trump said he was using the malaria drug to ‘protect’ himself from coronavirus.
Prescriptions for the drug subsequently skyrocketed, before it was removed from major testing trials as it proved to be ineffective in reducing the impact of COVID-19.
Scientific journal The Lancet published and later retracted a study based on false data that claimed coronavirus cases taking hydroxychloroquine had an increased death rate.
COVID SHIELD co-lead investigator Marc Pelligrini said researchers were not considering the drug as a treatment, but as a preventative.
‘The evidence that shows that the drug doesn’t particularly help with treatment really never deterred us because we always thought that … if the drug did have a role in preventing people from getting COVID-19, it has to be even before they were exposed to SARS-CoV-2,’ he told The Australian.
Test tube studies have found hydroxychloroquine can work to impede the replication of COVID-19 and discourage proliferation.
Claire Lobb is an emergency care nurse at The Alfred Hospital and among about 230 frontline healthcare workers signed up for the four-month trial.
‘Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that is cheap and readily available, with very few side effects. If there is a chance this drug could help prevent frontline healthcare workers from getting COVID-19, I think it is important that we do a proper clinical trial to test it,’ she said.
Ms Lobb said she was keen to be involved and excited at the prospect of finding out whether the drug was useful as a prophylactic.
‘To have a drug that is cheap and widely available to reduce transmission of the virus to frontline healthcare workers would be really helpful, especially while we are waiting for a vaccine,’ she said.
While the Australian researchers remain hopeful hydroxychloroquine could prevent COVID-19, a U.S. study found on Thursday the drug offers no protection.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found about 6.3 per cent of hospital workers who took the drug regularly caught the virus, compared to 6.6 per cent of people who didn’t.
The effect, they said, was ‘negligible’ and although a slightly higher proportion of people without the drug became sick, it was not a big enough difference to suggest hydroxychloroquine worked.
Whether or not the medicine could help treat people who already had Covid-19 was not studied.
Leftist Qld. government inks deal with coal miner, days out from election campaign
The Palaszczuk government has finally struck a deal with Adani for royalties from its controversial $2 billion Carmichael mine, days before the government goes into caretaker mode before the October election.
Treasurer Cameron Dick confirmed the government “settled terms for a royalty agreement” this week, more than one year after it was originally intended to be finalised.
“I can assure you that Adani will pay every dollar in royalties that they have to pay to the people of Queensland and the taxpayers of Queensland, with interest,” he said.
“That is absolutely locked in now and that is something we have now concluded as a government.”
“Obviously you spend a lot of time negotiating royalty agreements, not just in relation to this mine but to many mining projects across Queensland, because we want to work through the details.”
A deadline for the deal, which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pledged to have finalised a year ago, was extended to November last year. That date also passed without any confirmation.
The project has led to divisions in the Labor Party at state and federal levels for years, after Ms Palaszczuk and then-Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt agreed to a royalty holiday for the company without cabinet approval in 2017.
Former treasurer Jackie Trad later blocked the deal with the backing of the party’s Left and Centre factions. Labor’s deputy federal leader, Richard Marles, conceded the party’s “clumsy” attempts to “walk the tightrope” on Adani during the federal election campaign had left its traditional voter base feeling abandoned.
The exact details of the deal will remain confidential, but it was reached under the government’s Resources Regional Development Framework (RRDF).
The framework, drawn up after months of tense negotiation with the Labor caucus in 2017, allows mining companies to defer payments to the state government and then repay their debt in full, including interest.
A company may be eligible to defer royalties if it shared infrastructure and if it “assisted in opening up undeveloped resource basins”.
A 388-kilometre track linking the project to Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal was originally slated, but later swapped out for a cheaper option.
Adani now plans to build a 200-kilometre rail line, valued at about $1.5 billion, to link its mine to Aurizon’s Central Queensland Coal Network, near Moranbah, in central Queensland. The company will be required to share the rail line with other proposed mines in the Galilee Basin.
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