Poisonous Bufo May Have Toad Hold On Temple Terrace
Special Report: Florida's Frogs TAMPA There's absolutely nothing comely about the shot-put-size toads. Their visage repulses most humans. They are big and brown and look like they can leave a bruise if they leap at you. Dogs and cats, however, seem to love them. Then again, dogs and cats aren't known for being particularly judicious about what goes into their mouths. 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 this morning. Her dog was in the back yard 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. "It scared me," she said. 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. She returned home and looked in the bushes. The toad was gone. The scientific name of the toad is Bufo marinus, which somehow seems to fit. Some call them marine toads or just plain giant toads. They are not to be confused with the cute little bright green frogs that hang on your windows eating bugs drawn to your porch light. 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. Bufo has adapted well for 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. During the day they hide under fallen trees, leaves, stones, debris or any other objects in humid areas, or burrow 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. Full-grown Bufos can get rather large. Some have been measured at 8 inches in length and weigh 2 pounds. 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. There was a time when these creatures were desired as a way to control insects that damage sugar cane. Growers brought them to South Florida in the 1930s and released them in the wild. The advisory explains that the first attempts failed: Most of the toads croaked. A colony did take hold near Miami International Airport when an importer accidentally released some. "Quickly the marine toad population increased to the point of being declared a public nuisance," the advisory states. "By 1965, a Dade County official suggested a bounty be placed on this species." 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 toads, which have no natural predators, have been known to push out native species not only by taking over territory and breeding grounds but also by eating the competition. 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 Tampa Bay area is about as far north as the species is found, he said. "But from here on down they kind of have everything going for them." "They've been established for quite a while," Allison said. "I don't think their numbers are increasing all that much." 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. To keep them at bay, homeowners should keep debris around their home to a minimum, keep the yard mowed, and reduce the standing water, which can be a convenient breeding ground and pets' food bowls. Fencing should be put up to keep them from under houses, too, Allison said, and spaces under privacy fences should be mended. People should not panic when they see one of the toads nestled in a planter or garden. Since the toads are a non-native species, they can be dispatched with extreme prejudice. Wildlife experts say there are several ways to do that. The most humane ways are 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. Experts urge people not to take the toads to the woods or wetlands and let them go. That only jeopardizes native species - and other Floridians. Before dispatching a toad, Bufo hunters should 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. The Southern toad doesn't grow longer than 3 inches, and it isn't plump like Bufo marinus. The Southern toad also can be distinguished by two prominent crests between its eyes. The crests extend toward the back of its head. 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. This venom, largely composed of cardioactive substances, can lead to profuse salvation, twitching, vomiting and shallow breathing if ingested or when it comes in contact with mucous membranes. If you come in contact with the poison, avoid touching your eyes or an open wound, and wash your hands thoroughly. Temple Terrace Police Department Officer Tracy Mishler, who works with the crime prevention bureau, said several of his neighbors in the Bonnie Brae Park area of town have told him of an abundance of Bufos in the area. "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. 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.
Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or at [email protected]