I thought it was an ornament, that the landlord had been round in the night adding to the inventory.
This is Bermuda’s only toad (as in only species): Rhinella marinara, after Linnaeus in 1758 – commonly called a cane toad, but also known as :
- Bufo agua Clark 1916
- Bufo marinus Mertens 1969
- Bufo marinus Schneider 1799
- Bufo marinus marinus Mertens 1972
- Bufo strumosus Court 1858
- Chaunus marinus Frost et al. 2006
- Bufo marinis Barbour 1916
- or: bufo toad, giant American toad, giant toad, marine Toad, Suriname toad, crapaud, kwapp, maco pempen, Maco toro, Aga-Kröte
They were brought onto the island by Captain Nathaniel Vesey.
The Conservation Bermuda website confidently states that he imported 24 toads from Guyana in 1885, but it may not have been so precise as all that – this is an extract from a book written in 1917 by the Bermuda Biological Station for Research:
It is a direct quote from Science N8 Vol XIII No 322 p 342 which notes that a survey undertaken in 1884 on Bermuda found no amphibians at all on the island. Frederic Clayton Waite wrote the article in Science and he was a Harvard trained Professor of Zoology at Ohio State University. I found some of his other work of particular interest – way back in 1908 he argued for less didactic teaching in the medical student curriculum and more hands-on experience, though he favoured anatomy and histology experience and I might favour patient experience. He advocated the dissection of cats, dogs or rabbits as a precursor to human anatomy (not to be encouraged at home).
Back to the toad. Where was I?
Over time several species of flora and fauna have been introduced into Bermuda, usually well-intentioned, but sometimes with less than ideal outcomes (Ladybirds to eat aphids that necessitated Jamaican anoles to eat the ladybirds, then Kiskadees to eat the lizards etc. I think I mentioned this back in July last year when talking about ants and cockroaches) Well the introduction of toads seems to have been successful – with voracious and opportunistic appetites they eat all sorts of insects and roaches, crickets, millipedes and snails. It could have gone terribly wrong because there are no natural predators above the toads on the island. In fact worldwide they are considered tasty morsels by very few species – maybe one or two snakes eat them if they have to. Probably because the toads secrete a poison from their parotid glands when squeezed and this not only tastes foul (I am told) but can actually cause death if ingested by dogs or cats. The Invasive Species Compendium database informs that: The toxin causes extreme pain if rubbed into the eyes – who would even test that hypothesis?
Captain Vesey was probably before his time since now there are many instances of these toads being introduced to control crop pests. He was a member of the colonial parliament representing Devonshire Parish. The ships that the master mariner sailed includes: Eliza Barss 1857, a barque W P Chandler c1860, the Sir George F Seymour, Atlantic, a clipper called Ceylon of Boston, a brigantine Lady of the Lake and an appropriately named brigantine Devonshire.
It does seem however that what Google remembers him for is bringing toads to Bermuda!
Now this toad has one more interesting fact – it was once used for pregnancy testing!
Sources disagree on the process – the Invasive Species compendium describes injecting a woman’s urine subcutaneously into the toad then if she is pregnant the toad will produce sperm in its own urine. While the Welcome Institute states that African clawed frogs (Xenopus) were used, and the procedure was to inject the woman’s urine into the leg muscle of a female who then was induced to lay eggs if the woman was pregnant. The former was called a Bufo test but the latter called a Hogben test. Britannica supports the Xenopus frog while Wikipedia the Bufo toads. After googling for ages I have found a 1948 article in Nature where using the male Bufinus toad is described – with the benefit that you can reuse the toad in as little as five days. The research is interesting – after establishing the theory worked using the isolated hormone hCG, then they used 60 pregnant women and all 60 had positive tests using this method, which would seem to make it more accurate than todays pharmacy tests – but the paper omits details such as how pregnant the women were and whether controls were used.
It is tea time now, not that I have been writing this all day, but it did keep me entertained on an unusually rainy Sunday afternoon. We will not be eating Toad in the Hole, nor playing it, nor watching it. 🙂