Back in the 1930s, beetles were ravaging Australia's sugar cane crops. Desperate to avoid using deadly pesticides, farmers imported a hundred amphibians from South America that were supposed to eat the beetles. They never did, but you can guess how the story went: 80 years later, there are now 1.5 billion damned cane toads on the continent.
Bill Waller, Wikipedia
"I'm kind of a big deal."
Did we mention that cane toads secrete a deadly toxin that causes cardiac arrest in just about every life form native to Australia? Snakes, snails, kangaroos, even a 9-foot crocodile can be killed by a single toad. Oh, and they have no natural predators. And a single female can lay 100,000 eggs a year.
This is where ants come in. Somehow, someone decided that ants would be the perfect anti-frog predator and set about finding just the right bunch. While Australia is host to a number of ferocious ant species, the "meat ant" in particular tends to live around water, just like toads. But how can ants deal with the poison they would chomp into if they were attacking cane toads? Cane toad toxins, after all, attack the heart.
Fortunately, ants are heartless. And while you'd think that the toads could just hop away from an ant swarm, they actually use a strategy called crypsis when attacked -- basically, the toads stay very still and hope their poison kills the attacker. So as soon as the ants start gnawing, the toad just lies there ... and gets eaten.
So how do researchers plan to lure ants to where the frogs are? The answer is even more insane than the idea of using ants to wipe out toads: cat food. Toss cat food around the toads, ants come for the cat food, ants eat the toads because why bother with the cat food when there are delicious toads around? No word on how many stray cats are eaten alive by voracious ants in the process.
"See, this is why I never go outside. Or to Australia."
In a battle of bird versus jet liner, you'd think the jet would win every time. Nope. A bird may not enjoy getting sucked into a jet engine, but you could argue that the people on board the plane enjoy it even less -- at least 219 people have died worldwide due to planes getting downed by collisions with wildlife. In 2010 alone, there were 9,622 instances where animals struck an aircraft, with birds involved in 97.2 percent of them (the other 2.8 percent were likely fairies and gremlins getting sucked into the intake). These strikes cause an incredible $600 million a year in damage.
"Donald Duck went down hard."
Fortunately, the U.S. Air Force and large public airports around the country have a variety of cutting-edge techniques for dealing with this problem. Since it's the U.S. government at work, you would typically expect the solution to cost billions of dollars and not actually solve anything. But at LAX and several other airports, they have a "wildlife management canine." It's a dog. Someone went out and bought a few border collies and set them loose. The wildlife management canine runs around basically doing dog stuff, like chasing birds.
Pictured: A true hero.
But there isn't just one solution for every situation. The U.S. Air Force's Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard Team has an entire arsenal of tricks and tactics up their sleeves. They use pyrotechnics (fireworks) and occasionally radio-controlled model aircraft to harass the trespassing avians. Yes, they actually employ someone to pop fireworks and fly model airplanes at geese. No, we don't know if they're hiring.
Oh, and JFK has a professional falconer on their payroll. We're estimating that by next weekend, about a half-million guys in bars are going to be claiming that's their job.
You can follow Monte's musings and misadventures here.