ORLANDO, Fla. – It's that time of year again. Time for giant, ugly, toxic toads.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is warning Floridians to protect pets and children against cane toads, also known as marine, giant and bufo toads, which are starting to appear in Florida yards, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
The toads secrete a milky white, toxic substance called a bufotoxin – it's their defense mechanism. If a dog or cat comes in contact with the toxin by biting or sniffing the slow-moving toads, the toxins could kill them within 15 minutes without emergency treatment.
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 for 10 minutes, taking care not to flush the toxin down the throat– but out and away. Take a towel and wipe your pet's gums and tongue and then get your pet to the vet as soon as possible.
The secretions are not good for people either, especially small children. The toxic substance may irritate the skin or burn the eyes. Cane toad eggs also contain the toxin and can be harmful to any animal that consumes them.
The rain and rising temperatures bring the poisonous, nocturnal invaders out. Official sightings have been reported in Lee, Collier, Okeechobee, Broward, Pasco and Palm Beach counties since March. In Palm Beach Gardens, one neighborhood was reporting an infestation of thousands of the poisonous toads.
Native to South and Central America, the cane toad was first introduced in Florida as a way of managing pests in the sugar cane fields in the 1930s, according to the University of Florida.
It is believed current populations are the result of pet trade escapes and releases in the 1950s and 60s. A part of the South Florida landscape since then, the pests have now spread to Lake Okeechobee and the Tampa Bay area, Florida Today reported.
The FWC encourages landowners to kill the invasive species on their own property whenever possible. They look very similar to the native and harmless southern toad, so be careful to identify them correctly before killing them. Basically, if the toad is more than 4 inches long, it's a poisonous toad.
The toads are not protected by any conservation laws but toad hunters do have to abide by the state's anti-cruelty law. The humane way to terminate the toads is to apply a small dab of Orajel or a similar numbing agent on it while wearing latex or rubber gloves. After a few minutes, place them in a plastic bag and freeze them for 48 hours. Then dispose of them.
You can help make your property less attractive to cane toads by following these tips:
- Cut your grass regularly and keep it short
- Fill in any holes around structures
- Trim the underside of shrubs and keep branches off the ground
- Clear away brush piles and remove clutter
- Feed pets indoors when possible and bring outdoor pet food and water bowls indoors at night
- Clean up any food scraps from pet bowls or outside tables and grills