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Living Sanibel: Invader has locals hopping mad

By Staff | Apr 8, 2015

The invasion of the Cuban treefrog is a case study in what happens when an interloper that is a prolific breeder enters a new environment through human commercial activity. First identified in the Florida Keys in the 1920s, this frog is now found throughout Florida and is rapidly moving into Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as westward toward the Texas coast. The Cuban treefrog spreads not only via ornamental plants, but also by motorized vehicles, trailered boats, and many other unusual methods.

This spread is devastating to the indigenous frogs because the Cuban treefrog grows to twice the size of both the green and squirrel treefrogs and is capable of eating them. Furthermore, the Cuban treefrog tadpole is a superior competitor to native tadpoles, causing even more pressure on the indigenous species. It also appears to be negatively impacting certain smaller fish in the locales to which it has moved.

The situation has become so dire that Dr. Steve Johnson, assistant professor of urban wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, wrote an article in which he instructs homeowners on how to euthanize and dispose of all the Cuban treefrogs they might encounter around their homes. The recommended method is to catch the frogs using a plastic bag and to freeze them.

The Cuban treefrog readily gets into homes and condominiums, swims in toilets, can be found under sinks, has been known to short out electrical boxes, and generally wreaks havoc on the environment. Studies are now under way to explore the use of biological or chemical deterrents to halt or at least slow the continued spread of this invasive species.

The Cuban treefrog eats a wide variety of insects, but has also been known to consume Indo-Pacific geckos, green and brown anoles, and bird eggs, as well as some smaller hatchlings. It has become the prey of choice for yellow rat, coral, and corn snakes and is heavily preyed upon by rodents.

You should always take care in handling the Cuban treefrog as its skin secretes a sticky substance that is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes of humans, such as the eyes, ears, and nose. People with allergies are especially vulnerable, and recovery from contact with a Cuban treefrog may take several hours. Although it has not been documented to be responsible in any dog or cat deaths, pets should be kept away from this potentially harmful frog.

Given its ability to adapt and thrive in urban environments, the Cuban treefrog battle will probably end with the frog winning.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.