Register      Login
Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals

The power of myth: the (non) impact of invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) on domestic chickens (Gallus gallus)

Christa Beckmann A B and Richard Shine A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Biological Sciences A08, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Animal Production Science 50(9) 847-851
Submitted: 25 May 2010  Accepted: 21 July 2010   Published: 29 September 2010


Myths about invasive species are widespread in the general community, even when contrary to scientific evidence. Public revulsion against invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Australia has encouraged the belief that toads pose a significant risk to domestic poultry, by poisoning fowls that eat toads or that drink water contaminated by toads. Although discredited by scientists in 1938, within 2 years of the toads’ introduction to Australia, the myth continues to flourish. We conducted experimental trials to evaluate the vulnerability of chickens to toad-contaminated water, and to toad ingestion. No ill effects were seen, with one chicken consuming 45 small toads without falling ill. Thus, available evidence suggests that cane toads do not imperil domestic poultry.

Additional keywords: bufotoxin, metamorph, Rhinella marina, urban legend.


We thank Eric Cox for the generous use of his pet chickens and advice. This project was funded by the Australian Research Council, and supported logistically by the Northern Territory Land Corporation. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.


Allport GW, Lepkin M (1945) Wartime rumors of waste and special privilege: why some people believe them. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 40, 3–36.
Crossref | GoogleScholarGoogle Scholar | [Verified July 2009]

Back Yard Chickens (2010) Are toads poisonous to chickens? Available at [Verified July 2010]

Backyard Poultry (2008) Unexplained death. Available at [Verified July 2009]

Beckmann C, Shine R (2009) Impact of invasive cane toads on Australian birds. Conservation Biology 23, 1544–1549.
Crossref | GoogleScholarGoogle Scholar | PubMed | [Verified July 2009]

Donovan P (2002) Crime legends in a new medium: fact, fiction and loss of authority. Theoretical Criminology 6, 189–215.
Crossref | GoogleScholarGoogle Scholar | [Verified 1 July 2009]

Frog Decline Reversal Project Inc. (2009) The unwanted amphibian. Available at [Verified July 2009]

Frost DR (2009) Amphibian species of the world: an online reference. Available at [Verified May 2009]

Glassner B (1999) ‘The culture of fear.’ (Basic Books: New York)

Grace B (2008) Cane toads and Top End fish. Fishnote No. 42. Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines, Darwin, NT.

Griffiths AD, McKay JL (2007) Cane toads reduce the abundance and site occupancy of Merten’s water monitor (Varanus mertensi). Wildlife Research 34, 609–615. [Verified July 2009]

Knowles RP (1964) The poisonous toad and the canine. Veterinary Medicine 59, 38–42. [Verified 30 August 2010]

Meyer K , Linde H (1971) Collection of toad venoms and chemistry of toad venom steroids. In ‘Venomous animals and their venoms’. (Eds W Bucherl, EE Buckley) pp. 521–556. (Academic Press: New York)

Mungomery RW (1938) Toad protection. In ‘Cane Pest and Disease Control Board conference .’ Canegrowers: Bundaberg, Qld.

Oakwood M (2003) The effect of cane toads on a marsupial carnivore, the northern quoll, Dasyurus hallucatus. Progress report. Parks Australia, Darwin.

Phillips BL, Brown GP, Shine R (2003) Assessing the potential impact of cane toads on Australian snakes. Conservation Biology 17, 1738–1747.
Crossref | GoogleScholarGoogle Scholar | [Verified July 2009]

Shine R (2010) The ecological impact of invasive cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Australia. The Quarterly Review of Biology in press. , open url image1

Smith JG, Phillips BL (2006) Toxic tucker: the potential impact of Cane Toads on Australian reptiles. Pacific Conservation Biology 12, 40–49. open url image1

Toropov B (2001) ‘The complete idiot’s guide to urban legends.’ (Alpha Books: Indianapolis, IN)

Tyler MJ (1975) ‘The cane toad Bufo marinus: an historical account and modern assessment.’ (The Vermin and Noxious Weeds Destruction Board Victoria and the Agriculture Protection Board, Western Australia: Melbourne)

Van Beurden E (1980) ‘Report on the results of stage 3 of an ecological and physiological study of the Queensland cane toad (Bufo marinus).’ (Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Central Office: Canberra, ACT)

Webb JK, Brown GP, Child T, Greenlees MJ, Phillips BL, Shine R (2008) A native dasyurid predator (common planigale, Planigale maculata) rapidly learns to avoid a toxic invader. Austral Ecology 33, 821–829.
Crossref | GoogleScholarGoogle Scholar | open url image1