TAMPA - There's nothing comely about shot-put-size toads. They repulse. They are big and brown and look like they could leave a bruise if they leap at you.
Dogs and cats, though, seem to love them.
Carole Miller of Temple Terrace had a Jack Russell terrier that got hold of such a toad a month ago. The results were tragic.
"It was 15 minutes between the time I got the dog in and the time he had died," she said Friday.
Her dog was in the backyard playing when Miller heard him barking.
"I went out to see what he was up to. He was back in the bushes," she recalled. "I looked and saw a toad stretched out on the ground."
She recognized the species as poisonous and immediately pulled her dog into the house.
Her dog clawed at its mouth and began suffering seizures. She rushed him to the veterinarian, but there was nothing to be done. He died there, she said.
The scientific name of the toad is Bufo marinus. Some call them marine toads or just plain giant toads.
Temple Terrace police Officer Tracy Mishler said several of his neighbors in the Bonnie Brae Park area have told him of an abundance of Bufos.
"From my understanding," Mishler said, "they are a problem everywhere, not just in Temple Terrace. But I've had several neighbors whose dogs have gotten hold of the toads and died."
That prompted Mishler to send out warnings to neighborhood watch groups in Temple Terrace to be on the lookout for Bufos.
Toads Are Sensitive To Cold
Bufos have immense, deeply parotid glands that extend far down the sides of their bodies, according to an advisory from the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.
They are brown or gray-brown on top, sometimes with cream colored spots scattered across their backs, sides and legs. The underside is a sickly pale yellow, sometimes flecked with black. The back and legs are covered with spiny warts.
The Bufo has adapted well to life in urban and suburban areas of central and southern Florida.
"They can frequently be seen hopping along sidewalks or resting near suburban canals," the advisory states. They are active mostly at night, hiding during the day under fallen trees, leaves, stones or debris, or burrowing into loose soil.
Though big and tough looking, the Bufo is sensitive to cold. They breed from spring to autumn. They eat everything, from plants to insects to dog and cat food. Scientists in Costa Rica once grew Bufos in a lab by feeding them small mice.
They came from the Amazon basin in South America and have spread through Central America into some of the warmer Southern states.
In Florida, they have invaded the Keys as well as South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, the advisory states.
Secretions Can Be Fatal
So, why not live and let live? It's the milky secretion that presents a problem.
Skin glands in the Bufos produce a highly toxic substance that is an effective defense against predators. It can sicken or kill small animals, including dogs and cats. The secretion can irritate the skin and burn the eyes of humans who handle the critter.
The regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Lakeland gets about two to three calls a month about the toads, said Chad Allison, wildlife assistance biologist.
The commission has no problem with people eradicating them, he said.
"They are so easily recognized, people aren't afraid to euthanize them, whether stomping or freezing or shooting them," he said.
Similar Species Is Harmless
Wildlife experts say the most humane choice is to pop them into a plastic bag and then put them in a freezer for a couple of days or smack them with a shovel.
But first make sure it is at least 4 inches long because the species has a smaller look-alike called Bufo terrestris. Also known as the Southern toad, this Bufo is a beneficial indigenous species that doesn't harm pets.
Use gloves or a bag to handle the Bufos. If you have to use a bare hand, grab it around the waist, away from the poison-secreting glands.
Wildlife experts say that if a dog has been poisoned by a Bufo, it may drool a lot, shake its head and whine. Its gums turn brick red. In serious cases, the dog may convulse.
Pet owners immediately should use a hose to flush the pet's mouth, holding its head to the side and down so the water runs out and isn't swallowed. Rub the gums and mouth to remove the toxin, and immediately call a veterinarian.