When you see south Florida in the news, the big stories involve either the potentially dangerous wildlife or “a Florida man” doing something ridiculous. Whether it’s the alligators, panthers, or some species of snake, the wildlife is incredibly intimidating for non-residents and new arrivals. Through all of the crazy headlines about giant pythons and alligators, you rarely hear mention of one of its deadliest new residents: Rhinella marina, also known as the “cane toad”, “Bufo toad”, or “marine toad”.
These big amphibians may not be a huge threat to people, but they are certainly dangerous to our predatory family pets. They could also become another major invasive hurdle for native wildlife, which is a big problem.
What makes them so dangerous?
These toads contain a toxin that can be deadly to any animal that ingests it. This defense is to protect them from fast moving predators and can only be dispatched when the toad is grabbed. The poison is contained in the parotoid gland, located behind the eye. If stressed, the white toxin oozes from pores in this gland. If the gland itself is squeezed, poison will shoot out like puss from a pimple.
Many dogs and cats find their movement irresistible, and with predatory instinct kicking in, will try and catch the toad. Unfortunately for our furry friends, their lack of thumbs means that they catch toads with their mouth. Once the poison is ingested by the dog, it will become disoriented, begin foaming from the mouth, and potentially have a seizure. It takes only about 15 minutes for the animal to become sick and die.
Tadpoles and eggs are toxic as well. Any native animal may try to eat them and perish like your family pet.
Where did they come from? Why are they here?
Cane toads are originally from South America, and were brought to Florida to reduce the population of the destructive sugarcane beetle (Euetheola humilis). Though initial efforts to establish the toads failed, an accidental release accounts for a majority of the spreading invasion.
What can you do to help?
The best way for you to help with the cane toad issue is to report sightings to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The website to report exotic species sightings is www.eddmaps.org/florida/report
You can also call the hotline at 1-888-IVE-GOT1 (1-888-483-4681)
Please remember to take a picture and note your location. Confirmation is necessary to catalyze the FWC’s response to the issue.
There are also many prevention tactics that we at Wild Heart suggest:
Mow your lawn short and trim the underside of low lying shrubs to eliminate attractive hiding spots for toads.
Clean up your backyard. Debris is a great place for toads to take shelter, and outdoor food and water bowls for your pet attract them as well. Anything that will attract the toad’s prey will attract the toads.
Monitor pets outside at night. The cane toad is generally nocturnal, and so this is the time that your pets are most at risk. (Please monitor your pets outside! It is beneficial for them, and protects harmless native animals as well)
We promote proper training for all dogs. A dog that is well-trained will be less likely to impulsively attack a toad, and will respond promptly to a recall command. This training could save a dog’s life.
We believe that prevention is always better than treatment. It is much less stressful knowing that you have a well-trained dog that won’t interact with the toads than to have a potentially deadly situation that could cost up to $2000 in vet care bills.
If your dog does interact with a cane toad and gets the toxin in its mouth, here are the steps you should take:
Wash the toxin forward out of the mouth. Tilt your dog’s head and rinse with a hose, ensuring that the water doesn’t go down the throat.
Call your vet. (You should know the emergency vet hours in your area)
Wipe the gums/tongue with a dish towel to remove any residual toxin
Take these steps and your dog will have the best chance of making it.
How do I know it’s a cane toad?
Indiscriminate killing of amphibians can be a major issue for vigilante pet protectors. Be sure it is actually a cane toad before taking precautionary action.
Here is a diagram comparing a cane toad to a native southern toad (Anaxyrus terrestris):
If you see a toad that is over 4 inches long, it is likely a cane toad.
Remember, native amphibians are an indicator of the health of your local ecosystem. They provide an important service in this way, and should be appreciated. The cane toad is an invasive species, and that is why it is becoming such a problem here in south Florida.
If you want more information on what to do about your cane toad problem, check out this weblink: