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What To Do If You See A Poisonous Bufo Toad Near Your Property

University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
Thousands of poisonous bufo toads are plaguing South Florida.

South Florida is experiencing an infestation of poisonous Bufo toads, also known as Cane toads.

These creatures are not native to South Florida but were brought to the region to control pests attacking the sugar cane crop. They like to hop around “human modified environments near a source of moisture,” says Dr. Steven Johnson, an associate professor at University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, such as suburban neighborhoods, gold courses and baseball fields.

News stations have broadcast images of the toads appearing en masse in Palm Beach Gardens. One resident tweeted a photo of the toads in a swarm across a swimming pool and covering the walls. For residents this has sparked fears of pet poisoning. “We’ve been getting about 100 calls a day,” says Jeannine Tilford, the owner of Toad Busters, a pest control business that collects cane toads at homes. “We ended up catching like 135 in one night.”

Recent rain and warm temperatures have led to a rise in breeding. Female canes can reproduce 10 to 30 thousand eggs, says Johnson, who specializes in cane toads. He joined Sundial to talk about the Bufo toads.

WLRN: Why were Cane Toads brought to South Florida?

JOHNSON: Back in the 1930s there was a meeting convened in Puerto Rico, as a matter of fact, where somebody extolled the virtues of the toads. They said, 'this is going to be our solution to controlling Kheng grubs' (worm that kills plants) that were damaging sugar cane growing areas around the world. Toads were introduced in many places. A hundred of them were shipped over to Australia. They were introduced here in Florida. They've had huge negative impacts on the environment in Australia.

What have they done to our environment?

The main concern in Florida at present is the socioeconomic impact of the toads, like the fact that they can cause sickness or death in a pet. And if you're somebody who's got a pet dog or a cat that you love like a child like I do, if my pet was to get negatively impacted by a cane toad it'd be a devastating impact on me. Then also there's a cost because people have to take their animals to the vet so there's an economic and human quality of life impact that the toads are having here. But as far as we can tell their ecological impacts right now don't seem too big, which is fortunate because we have a lot of other invasive species like the Burmese python for example that are having some big ecological impacts.

What's the harm [to pets or small children]? 

It's this toxin, this thick viscous substance that's contained in water called the parotid, there's a pair of them, one on each shoulder of the toad, and that big gland has a lot of poison ducts and if you put that gland under pressure that toxin would squirt out and that's the same thing that happens when the dog bites it. People don't have to worry about them being a threat to them, but you wouldn't want a young child putting it in their mouth. It's that poison that can come out of those glands that are the major problem with the cane toads.

Credit University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation / Courtesy
Under the eyes of a bufo toad are their parotid glands, which is where their poison oozes out.

As a homeowner can I try and deal with all those toads myself or should I call somebody to do it?

Fortunately you have the resource, but unfortunately we've got to the situation where cane toads are so bad that we need these nuisance wildlife trappers like Toad Busters.

If you want to do it yourself first of all you want to make your property less attractive to toads. For instance they will eat pet food that is left out so if you have food you set out for your pets you don't want to leave that out. You want to bring that in at night or just don't put it down at all. Also if there's a source of moisture such as water for your pets or if you have an AC unit or something else that drips water toads will seek moisture. If you have security lights that are on all night and they're attracting insects you're creating a food source for cane toads and you'd want to remove that. You also want to pick up any debris around your yard. Cane toads like to hide in debris piles and that could be just regular trash like a discarded lawnmower or yard waste. You want to trim your shrubs up off the ground so there are no places for cane toads to hide and then just sort of patch any holes that you might have. That's the first step -- making sure your yard is suitable.

Watch can toad expert Dr. Steven Johnson give tips on how to spot and handle the toads.