A farmer in far north Western Australia has captured the bizarre sight of a knot of cane toads hitching a ride on a snake in the middle of the night.
Paul Mock was checking the dam on his farm outside Kununurra near the Northern Territory border when he came across the hitchhiking amphibians.
An overnight deluge meant he had to get up around 1.30am to drop the dam’s spillway, when he saw water had risen so far it had forced thousands of cane toads to seek higher ground.
“I noticed because the water was so high, that it had flooded all the burrows of the cane toads which live around the edge of the lake underneath the lawn. So they were all on top of the lawn, thousands of them,” he said.
68mm just fell in the last hour at Kununurra. Flushed all the cane toads out of my brothers dam. Some of them took the easy way out – hitching a ride on the back of a 3.5m python. pic.twitter.com/P6mPc2cVS5
— Andrew Mock (@MrMeMock) 30 December 2018
He then went to investigate the other side of the dam in case the deluge had washed out the road, when he discovered the slithering toad transporter.
“When I was halfway across the lawn, I bumped into the snake and he was just crawling along with all these toads hanging on, which I thought was extremely unusual and had never seen anything like that before.
“So I thought I better get a photo of this, and got a video of it, posted that to my brother who’s in New Zealand at the moment. With his time zone he was already up. He started tweeting it and things like that.”
Mr Mock already knew there were a lot of cane toads burrowed beneath the lawn surrounding the lake on the property, but had not realised quite how many there were.
He said there are easily thousands of cane toads on his property, many of which were getting frisky in the late-night storm.
“It’s staggering how many there are there. I didn’t realise how many are hiding there until they all got flushed out,” he said.
“We don’t like the dam getting that high because there’s a risk of it blowing out and destroying it, so it’s unusual for their burrows to get flooded.
“They come out at night mainly, they don’t like the heat, they love the rain. They were all breeding like mad last night, fighting over females, so it was quite a sight to behold.”
Mr Mock has a pet dog, but because it is on a lead most of the time it is usually safe from the threat of the toad’s poison.
“We only take him on a lead because he’s not a very obedient dog. We don’t want him chasing wallabies into the bush, where there’s dingos.”
Monty the snake has a taste for wallabies
It is not the first time Mr Mock has had a close encounter with the toad-ferrying olive python, which goes by the name of Monty and is about 3.5 metres in length.
“We call him Monty because he’s one that hangs around the place. He’s a regular,” he said.
“We’re often seeing him around the clothesline and in the bush.
“The last major encounter we had with him was when he had eaten a wallaby. And he was so full, he couldn’t move. We could actually go up and touch him.
“He was pretty aggro about being touched because he was basically helpless and vulnerable because he had such a full belly.
“We’ve got a few stories about him, some a bit grosser than others.”
Cane toads are native to South America and Central America but have spread to many parts of Australia since they were introduced in 1935.
Mr Mock says while it is sad that there are so many cane toads in his part of the world, there is something of a silver lining in how Monty has adapted to them.
“It’s encouraging in a way to know the snake’s smart enough not to eat them and is surviving, and they’re living together and getting on with each other,” he said.
“To me, you could put a bit of a positive spin on the fact the Aussie animals have got used to them and figured them out.
“But it’s still detrimental to some things like goannas, which died when [the cane toads] first moved into town. They still haven’t come back.
“There are some reptiles that don’t cope with them, but the olive python seems to have figured them out.”