A Florida suburb is being plagued by thousands of poisonous toads that experts say are bufo toads – also known as cane toads.
The invasive cane toad has spread across much of Southwest Florida in recent years, killing pets and native wildlife in the process. Residents in the infested Palm Beach Gardens neighborhood worry toxins secreted by the toads will harm their pets and children.
News stations broadcast images of the small toads clogging pool filters, hopping en masse across driveways and sidewalks and lurking in landscaped lawns.
Resident Jennifer Quasha told WPBF her family first noticed the toads Friday. She said hundreds of them were in her swimming pool.
Mark Holladay of the pest removal service Toad Busters told WPTV that recent rains coupled with warm temperatures sent the amphibians into a breeding cycle.
Holladay said even more toads are likely to spread throughout South Florida in the coming weeks.
Here are five things to know about the toads.
How you know it’s a cane toad
Cane toads are tan to reddish-brown, and their backs are marked with dark spots. Adults are larger than native toads and frogs, measuring 4 to 6 inches, and their skin is warty.
If that’s not gross enough, they also have large triangular glands behind their heads that excrete a highly toxic white goo when the toads are stressed or grabbed.
The toads are more common in developed areas, especially near canals and freshwater retention ponds, and in agriculture communities.
Are they dangerous? Yes
Toad toxins are highly poisonous to cats and dogs, and many have been killed after grabbing the toads with their mouths.
Symptoms of toad poisoning in pets include drooling, loss of coordination, head-shaking and convulsions.
If poisoning is suspected, use a hose and run water in the side of the mouth, flushing the toxin out and not down the throat while pointing the head downward, the University of Florida recommends. Treatment typically includes a trip to the emergency veterinarian.
Southwest Florida has what seems to be growing populations in recent years as more dog deaths and near-deaths are reported.
The death of one Florida woman’s 3-year-old Yorkie prompted her crusade against the toxic toads.
Her dog, Daisy Mae, “started having seizures, and right as we pulled into the (veterinarian office) she died in my lap,” Sarah Hulke-Ehorn of Fort Myers said. “It was violent.”
The toxin also can cause skin and eye irritation in humans who handle the toads.
How to kill them
Some people catch them and put them in the freezer, and others stab them with frog gigs and toss them in the trash.
There are no guidelines when it comes to catching or securing the toads. They are not protected by state, federal or local laws because they are invasive and unwanted.
The University of Florida says the toads should be humanely euthanized by catching them and rubbing a 20 percent benzocaine gel on the toad’s belly before freezing them.
One Naples neighborhood hired a 10-year-old boy, called the Toad Trapper, to catch them.
How did they get to the US?
An invasive toad from South and Central America, the highly predacious cane toad was first introduced in Florida to sugar cane fields as a way to control pests, according to the University of Florida.
Another 100 or so were accidentally released at the Miami Airport in 1955, and there were various releases by pet dealers in the 1960s.
They’ve since spread from the southeast coast of Florida northwest to Lake Okeechobee and to the Tampa Bay area and are likely permanent parts of the Florida landscape.
What they eat: Bugs, birds, pet food
Cane toads eat anything from bugs and native frogs and toads to snakes, small birds and mammals.
So not only do they compete with native toads for breeding space and feeding grounds, but they also eat a variety of native wildlife.
They tend to be more active at night, and they can sometimes be seen in large numbers on streets and sidewalks. They appear to be drawn to light sources, which draw in bugs.
They’ve also been known to eat pet food.
Cane toads breed along the edge of freshwater ponds and lakes between March and September, and the eggs look very similar to native toad eggs.
Follow environmental writer Chad Gillis on Twitter: @ChadGillisNP