The cane-toad invasion of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, began, according to one resident, with a few toads in her pool last Thursday. “We weren’t sure what they were, so we removed them,” she told The Palm Beach Post. “Friday morning, it was like a mass exodus of toads. Baby toads.”
In photographs, tiny amphibian bodies swarmed a swimming pool, clambered up walls, and carpeted a hallway—countless toads so numerous and overwhelming that the residents of Palm Beach Gardens needed to call in help.
In the spring, with toad-breeding season under way, Jeannine Tilford starts getting calls to her pest-removal company, Toad Busters. Cane toads, also known as bufo toads, are yet another invasive species that has found a hospitable home in balmy southern Florida. Deliberately introduced from South and Central America in the 1930s, they were supposed to control beetles damaging the sugarcane crop—that’s how they got the name “cane toads.” Escaped pets likely helped establish the current population. When we talked on Tuesday morning, Tilford was getting ready to catch toads in the overrun Palm Beach Gardens neighborhood later that night.
The specific problem, she diagnosed, was an undisturbed lake in the neighborhood. With nothing to bother the toad eggs and tadpoles, nearly all of them had metamorphosed into toads, suddenly hopping en masse into yards and pools.
Cane toads can pose a particular danger because the adult ones shoot toxin from their back when attacked. The tiny, just-metamorphosed toads don’t carry enough toxin to be deadly yet, but big adult ones can easily send a dog into a seizure or even kill it. The toxin is “very viscous and would stick inside the dog’s mouth,” says Steve Johnson, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida. Owners should try to wipe out an affected dog’s mouth and immediately take it to the vet.