The case of the lengthening legs

An essay written for the Animal Movements Animal Motions conference in Sweden 27-28 May 2010 with a slightly shorter version published as The case of the lengthening legs: cane toads in northern Australia. In J. Bull (Ed.), Animal Movements • Moving Animals: essays on direction, velocity and agency in humanimal encounters (pp. 161-195). Uppsala: Uppsala University.

cane toad invasion mapped from a number of sources


In 2006 it was reported that cane toads at the fore of the front of expansion across the Top End of Australia were developing longer legs. Popular and scientific speculation was couched in terms of accelerated evolution. Cane toads were originally introduced into Queensland in 1935 in an attempt to control beetles in sugar cane. Since then they have expanded north and westward, increasing markedly in velocity in the last ten years, reportedly reaching Western Australia on 9 May 2009. Cane toads are poisonous and have led to the rapid decline and local extinction of top predator species such as quolls, freshwater crocodiles, lizard and snake species. Over 70 years a rich network of associations, as monster, plague bringer, scientific subject, pet and folk anti-hero has developed. Of prime concern is how we resolve the place of cane toads as ‘feral’ in a future ecology, given the considerable impact they have on the animals around them, and given their imbrication into a fabric of fear of invasion and change. Can they be envisaged anew as part of resilient ecosystems or are the changes too great?

This is a slightly longer version of the paper than what was finally published. phillips canetoads long version.pdf

This paper builds on the 2007 collaborative Thinking Skin (on the absence and presence of cane toads in WA) research project with anthropologist Jane Mulcock.