Animals We've Recruited For Pest Control...Sometimes With Great Consequences

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It's no secret that the use of pesticides in agriculture is potentially dangerous.

Those that make, apply, and consume them -- everyone from factory works to farmers to everyday consumers -- are vulnerable to the harmful chemicals they contain. But pesticides also allow farmers to protect yields and meet demand for their crops.

So what are the alternatives? One method is the use of animals—including everything from bacteria and insects to reptiles and mammals—that prey on troublesome pests. But these pest predators do not come without trade-offs of their own—and some have proven to be completely devastating to local ecosystems.

Cane Toad

Biological pest control is fundamental to organic agriculture, but perhaps the best example of biological pest control gone horribly awry is the cane toad.

In the late 19th and 20th centuries this toad was introduced to a number of places in the Caribbean and Pacific—most notably Australia—as a means of agricultural pest control. The toads voracious appetite proved to be of little use combating a variety of pest species—including rats and beetles—but has allowed it to thrive at the expense of native species.

Today, Australia still struggles to contain the spread of the toads which are considered one of the most damaging invasive species in the history of the continent.

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Photo credit: Sam Fraser-Smith/Creative Commons

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