Attack of the killer toads

"Huge poisonous monster" -- it's Australian for "toad." Coming to a Downunder metro area near you: poison-skinned toads that weigh nearly two pounds and are as big as a small dog, like the one pictured here (nicknamed "Toadzilla"). Introduced from Hawaii in the 1930s as part of a failed effort to eradicate destructive cane beetles in Queensland, the toads have adapted to their new home with surprising aplomb, spreading themselves across the land with amazing speed. Environmental group FrogWatch, which organizes toad hunts in an (admittedly hopeless) effort to make a dent in the cane toad's now 200 million-strong population, estimates that before long they'll be common on both coasts and in most Australian cities, where they thrive like rats in New York City.

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All that wouldn't be so big a deal if the cane toad weren't such a tough mother. Unfortunately, however, it has a taste for all manner of indigenous species unique to Australia, and its hardy disposition and toxic skin make it notoriously difficult to kill. The poisonous beasties are even becoming notorious killers of crocodiles who unwisely try and make snacks of them. So what's to be done? Some Northern Territory police are advising residents to attack the toads with golf clubs on sight, though most officials aren't sure what to do. Forget aliens from outer space destroying all life on earth: the damage these alien toads have done (and could still do) to Australia's flora and fauna proves that we can annihilate ourselves just fine, thanks.

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Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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