Use conditioned taste aversion to prevent carnivorous reptiles from eating toxic invasive cane toads

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Two studies evaluated the effects on reptile populations of using conditioned taste aversion to prevent carnivorous reptiles from eating toxic invasive cane toads. Both studies were in Australia.



  • Survival (2 studies): One of two replicated, controlled studies in Australia found that survival of yellow-spotted goannas subjected to conditioned taste aversion was higher at one of two sites than those that were not treated. The other study found that survival of bluetongue skinks given a high dose was higher than those given a low dose, but similar to skinks receiving no dose.


  • Behaviour change (1 study): One replicated, controlled study in Australia found that yellow-spotted goannas subjected to conditioned taste aversion were less likely to eat cane toads than those that were not treated.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated, controlled study in 2010–2011 in a site of mixed bushland and agriculture in Western Australia (Price‐Rees et al. 2013) found that northern bluetongue skinks Tiliqua scincoides intermedia subjected to conditioned taste aversion were more likely to survive contact with invasive cane toads Rhinella marina when given a high dose compared with a low dose treatment, but survival after a high dose was similar to those given no dose. Survival of skinks receiving a high dose taste aversion treatment was higher (9 of 9, 100% of skinks survived) than those receiving a low dose (4 of 8, 50% survived), but similar to those receiving no dose (12 of 15, 80% survived). The high dose induced vomiting in all skinks. Skinks were located by driving slowly in the morning and late afternoon along a 14 km stretch of road between September 2010 and April 2011. Those captured were fitted with radio transmitters. At the first appearance of cane toads (December 2010), skinks were randomly allocated to a taste aversion treatment (high dose: 1.2 mg/kg, 8 M LiCl; low dose: 0.8 mg/kg) or no treatment group and skinks caught after cane toad arrival were alternately allocated to either group. All skinks received cane-toad sausage baits (high dose: 9 skinks; low does: 8; no dose: 15 skinks) and were subsequently monitored for survival.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, controlled study in 2013–2015 in two tropical floodplain sites in Western Australia, Australia (Ward-Fear et al. 2016) found that conditioned taste aversion training of yellow-spotted monitors Varanus panoptes using live cane toads Rhinella marina resulted in higher survival of goannas at one of two sites compared to those receiving no conditioning. After conditioning, goannas were less likely to eat another cane toad (1% ate a toad) compared to before conditioning (52% ate a toad). Conditioned goanna had higher survival than unconditioned goannas in the southern site (conditioned: 40% survived 400 days; unconditioned: 0% survived 200 days), but no difference was found in the northern site (conditioned: 50% survived 300 days; unconditioned: 50% survived 300 days, 20% survived 400 days). The southern site was invaded by large numbers of toads, whereas toads arrived later and in smaller numbers to the northern site. Three months prior to the toad invasion, free-ranging goannas were exposed to small live toads (greater than 25g, 30–70 mm snout-vent length) with venom squeezed out. Goannas either bit the toad (conditioned; 22 goannas) or ignored it (unconditioned; 44 goannas). Goannas were monitored in the southern (47 goannas) and northern (19 goannas) sites from November 2013 to May 2015.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Sainsbury K.A., Morgan W.H., Watson M., Rotem G., Bouskila A., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Reptile Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for reptiles. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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