Riding sandworms was the rite of passage for the Fremen in Frank Herbert’s first Dune novels – a dangerous task mastered by Paul-Muad’Dib for battle but not one that was undertaken for fun. While there are no giant sandworms (that we know of) today on Earth, there are big, dangerous pythons that cane toads in Australia have been seen riding. Have they switched from cane to spice? Do they use python teeth for hooks and make the big-footed ones thump to call them? Do you need to watch Dune again to catch all of these references?
“He was literally moving across the grass at full speed with the frogs hanging on.”
An excited Paul Mock, a resident of the remote Western Australian town of Kununurra, is obviously no herpetologist as he described to Guardian Australia how he witnessed about ten cane toads (not frogs) hanging on to the back of a 3.5 meter (11.5 foot) python that apparently has been a part of the local scene long enough to have a name – Monty. (Get it? Ozzie humor.) Mock was checking on how his dam was holding up against a deluge that eventually dumped 70 mm (2.75 inches) of rain in a short period when he saw the bank of his lake covered with thousands of cane toads flushed out of their burrows.
For those who don’t know, cane toads are a far worse plague than a deluge in Australia. The invasive amphibians brought in to control cane beetles have instead become a greater uncontrollable pest – poisoning native species, pets and humans and quickly evolving larger legs to cover more territory. Is python-riding one of those new evolutionary traits that will give cane toads even more power to spread across Australia? It’s worse than that.
This is one of the most amazing videos I’ve seen!! Lots of *very* horny Cane #Toads (Rhinella marina) trying to mate with a large Olive #Python (Liasis olivaceus), with Giant Burrowing Frogs (Cyclorana australis) & Red Tree #Frogs (Litoria rubella) calling in the background!
Watching the video of the python-riding cane toads (see it here), amphibian expert Jodi Rowley, a senior lecturer in biological sciences at the University of New South Wales, identified these as male cane toads that were attempting to mate with Monty. (Make note: good title for the movie.) Are they trying to develop a toad-python hybrid capable of climbing trees, swallowing prey whole and attacking humans by rising up from toilets? Actually, Rowley says they’re just horny toads (no, not horned toads) that will try to mate with anything. As proof, she tweeted a photo of a cane toad mating with a rotten mango. (And suddenly, the horror sci-fi movie becomes a comedy.)
Unlike the sandworms on Arrakis, the pythons of Kununurra have not developed a taste for their riders, probably because they have no immunity to the cane toad’s toxin, which has depleted the area of other reptiles like the goanna. Evolving legs could help, according to Mock.
“You just learn to kick the toads out of the way when you go into your house at night. They’re attracted to the light. They’re on the driveway and you dodge them. You kind of almost forget they’re there until you see how many there are when they’re all out of the burrows.”
Mating with Monty. Monty Python and the Holding Canes. Snake-Toad-Nado. One of those will be coming soon to a theater near you.