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Extra order of frogs’ legs: Mutant five-legged cane toad found in Kununurra backyard

Sam JonesThe Kimberley Echo
A mutant five-legged cane toad found in Kununurra.
Camera IconA mutant five-legged cane toad found in Kununurra. Credit: Marion Roberts

In an un-frog-ettable discovery, a Kununurra school teacher has found the Kimberley equivalent of a four-leaf clover — a five-legged cane toad — in her backyard.

St Joseph’s Kununurra teacher Marion Roberts came across the abnormal toad while in her backyard earlier this week and quickly captured it, named it Pente and put it in a large container which she dubbed the Penthouse.

Abnormalities in frogs can be quite common, with another five-legged frog discovered in Mackay in 2020, sparking a viral story about its 600km trip to a “specialist frog hospital”.

A mutant five-legged cane toad found in Kununurra.
Camera IconA mutant five-legged cane toad found in Kununurra. Credit: Marion Roberts

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The US Geological Survey found abnormalities in frogs could be attributed to a range of factors, including injury from predators, parasites, nutritional deficiencies or contaminants.

“Amphibians, unlike people, breathe at least partly through their skin, which is constantly exposed to everything in their environment,” USGS research found.

“Consequently, their bodies are much more sensitive to environmental factors such as disease, pollution, toxic chemicals, ultraviolet radiation and habitat destruction.”

The mutant toad comes just two months after toxic cane toads began to appear in the previously un-infested West Kimberley after record-breaking floods.

Derby resident Trevor Menmuir found one of the toxic pests while dropping a bus-load of children back to Mowanjum community on the western end of the Gibb River Road.

Mr Menmuir had previously never seen them in the area and said it raised grave concerns about how they could impact the region.

“We’ve heard of them being up the Gibb and Mt Barnett for quite some time, but nothing this close and in town. This one’s the first from all I’ve heard,” he said.

“I saw it sitting up in the middle of the road and knew exactly what it was. I tried to convince myself it was an owl, but sadly it wasn’t.

“Seeing the devastation to native wildlife in the NT and the East/Central Kimberley, this isn’t a good sign.

“(It) could be our last good goanna season here in the West Kimberley.”

Ground-breaking trials which involved making sausages from the toads to feed local animals had given some hope to ecologists.

The sausages are made from non-poisonous parts of the toad and are laced with sickness-inducing chemicals to try create a negative association with the toad.

“It’s almost impossible to stop the spread of these toads but we can slow it down, and in slowing it down we can help build the resistance of local wildlife,” Curtin University school of molecular and life sciences associate professor Bill Bateman said.

“What we have found is when animals consume a small juvenile cane toad — one which hasn’t fully developed the poison gland — they don’t die.

“They get very sick and afterwards they tend to learn from their mistake and not eat them again.

“In the East Kimberley, there have been programs to replicate this with sausages made from the toads, which have been very successful.”

The introduction of 102 cane toads to Queenland in 1935 is widely regarded as one of the biggest ecological mistakes in Australian history.

In the years following their introduction, more than 50,000 young toads were released across Queensland and NSW.

King brown snakes, goannas, blue tongue lizards, quolls and freshwater crocodiles are among the animals most at-risk from cane toads.

Symptoms of a pet that has eaten a cane toad include shaking, drooling, vomiting or having problems breathing and staying awake.

If your pet eats a cane toad, wash out its mouth and eyes with the hose pointed down and away from its body and call a vet.

If you think you have found a toad in a new place that hasn’t had toads before, text your photos to Parks and Wildlife on 0400 693 807 or email them to canetoads@dpaw.wa.gov.au.

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