Today is the 14th anniversary of my ShukerNature blog's official launch (20 January 2009), so now, almost 800 ShukerNature articles later, here is my latest one, to mark this auspicious occasion, and inspired by a fascinating news report that I read just a few hours ago.
The news report in question (which can be accessed directly here) reveals the recent discovery and capture in Queensland, Australia, of a truly gigantic specimen of cane toad Bufo marinus (=Rhinella marina). Weighing a colossal 2.7 kg/6 lb (six times that of normal specimens), and dubbed Toadzilla, it may be the biggest toad of any kind ever officially recorded (but keep my use of the word 'officially' in mind, for reasons to be revealed here shortly).
Native to South America and recognized to be the world's largest toad species, the cane toad was introduced into Australia during the 1930s in a bid to control sugar cane-devouring beetles here. Alarmingly, however, it ultimately proved itself as serious an ecological blight as its intended prey. This is due not only to its skin being toxic but also to various toxin-secreting glands on its back and especially to the pair of very sizeable parotoid glands sited on its warty skin's shoulders, which secrete a potent cardiac toxin called bufotoxin - this highly deleterious suite of secretions collectively causing anything attempting to eat one of these toads to die a swift and usually certain death, including Australia's various native (and mostly endangered) marsupial carnivores, and even creatures as large as goannas (monitor lizards). To make matters worse, this toad also actively preys upon the smaller marsupial carnivore species, such as the shrew-like marsupial mice.
Moreover, because of its very effective deterrent against potential attackers, the cane toad has no predators here, causing its numbers to swell out of all proportion and thereby posing an increasingly severe threat to this island continent's unique indigenous fauna.
Having said that, in recent times one native Australian species, the black-necked ibis Threskiornis molucca, has seemingly conceived a remarkable means of side-stepping the cane toad's hitherto unassailable defence mechanism – these ibises have been seen throwing toads in the air, which distresses them, thus inducing them to release their skin glands' toxic secretions, after which the ibises wipe the toads on wet grass or rinse them in a water source, washing off the poison from the toads' skin, and then repeat the entire process, until the toads' glands and skin are eventually drained of toxin, after which the ibises swallow the toads whole, with no resulting ill effects.
Certain other canny avians, such as crows
and hawks, have learned to flip the toads onto their back and then devour their
internal organs, leaving their lethal shoulder and back glands untouched. Who said that
birds are bird-brained?! More information on toad-tackling birds here.
Anyway, as noted above, the cane toad is officially the world's largest species of toad. Unofficially, however, there may be reason to question this assumption, judging at least from certain intriguing reports contained in the cryptozoological archives.
The native Indian peoples inhabiting various tropical valleys in the Chilean and Peruvian Andes frequently report the existence there of a greatly-feared, giant form of toad called the sapo de loma ('toad of the hills'). It is said to be deadly poisonous and capable of preying upon creatures as large as medium-sized birds and rodents.
Science has yet to examine a sapo de loma, but as I have pointed out in my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals (2012) and its two predecessors (The New Zoo, 2002, and The Lost Ark, 1993), there is a major precedent for discovering batrachian behemoths in South America. Rolf Blomberg (1912-1996) was a Swedish explorer, photographer, and writer, and in 1950 he was instrumental in bringing to scientific attention a hitherto-undescribed species of giant toad native to southwestern Colombia. He achieved this significant feat by capturing a huge specimen there that he brought back with him to his home in neighbouring Ecuador, and which became the type specimen of this spectacular new species – duly dubbed Bufo blombergi in his honour a year later. Blomberg's giant toad (aka the Colombian giant toad) can attain a total snout-to-vent length of up to 10 in, which is greater even than that of the heavier, more massively-built cane toad.
Incidentally, German cryptozoological correspondent Markus Bühler has informed me that while browsing through a series of yearbooks from the 1970s for Stuttgart's Wilhelma Zoo, he noticed that the 1971 volume mentioned the chance birth at the zoo some years earlier of hybrids between a female B. blombergi and a male B. marinus. They were apparently indistinguishable from the paternal species, but exhibited unusually strong growth – no doubt a result of hybrid vigour. Bearing in mind that they were crossbreeds of the world's longest toad species and the world's largest toad species, it is a great pity that the book did not contain any additional information concerning them, because they must surely have had the potential to become veritable mega-toads!
In any event, mindful of the relatively belated scientific discovery of Blomberg's giant toad, it would be rash to rule out entirely the possibility that a comparable species still awaits discovery in remote, rarely-visited Andean valleys not too far to the south of the latter species' distribution range.
Moreover, there are also claims among the Mapuche people relating to a supposedly immense species of toad indigenous to various lakes, lagoons, and irrigation channels in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina. Known as the arumco ('big water frog') in Argentina and the vilú in Chile, it is said to measure up to 3 ft long. One such creature, dwelling in a lake, reputedly devoured a horse that was attempting to wade across, but whether this story is true or merely native folklore or hyperbole remains unresolved.
However, it does remind me of a comparable report that emerged from China. A team of nine scientists from Peking (now Beijing) University, led by 58-year-old biologist Prof. Chen Mok Chun, travelled to some very large, deep mountain pools (one of which is named Bao Fung Lake) near Wuhan in China's Hubei Province during August 1987 in order to film the area and its wildlife. While setting up their television cameras, however, they were allegedly treated to an exhibition of local wildlife far beyond anything that even their wildest imaginations – or worst nightmares – could have conceived.
In full view of the scientists, three huge creatures supposedly rose up out of one of these pools and moved towards the pool's edge nearest to them. Their stunned eyewitnesses likened these grotesque monsters to giant toads or frogs, with greyish-white skins, mouths that were said to be about 6 ft wide, and eyes "bigger than rice bowls".
According to Prof. Chen, they silently watched the scientists for a short time. Then one of them opened its huge mouth and swiftly extended an enormous tongue, estimated at 20 ft long, which it wrapped around the cameras on tripods. As it promptly engulfed the tripods, its two companions let forth some eldritch screams, and then all three monsters submerged, disappearing from view. The delayed-shock reaction experienced by the scientists was so great that one of them dropped to his knees and was physically sick, according to Chinese reports, summarised in various overseas media accounts, including an unidentified American newspaper report included here (if anyone can identify its source, please let me know, thanks!)
This incident seems so utterly incredible that one would surely feel justified in dismissing it entirely as a hoax of the sensationalist supermarket tabloid kind – were it not for the fact that the eyewitnesses in question were all trained scientists, including a major name in Chinese biological research, and all from the country's leading university. Moreover, reports of such creatures being sighted in this same locality by local fishermen date back at least as far as 1962.
For more information concerning mega-toads, not to mention mega-frogs too (and click here for one such example of the latter category of amphibian cryptid as documented by me on ShukerNature), be sure to check out my book A Manifestation of Monsters.