Cuban tree frogs tearing through Florida’s ecosystem
Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
An invasive species that is no friend to Florida wildlife might be crawling over your windows, leaping on you from a door or even lurking inside your toilet. And with all the recent rain, Cuban tree frogs are more prolific than ever.
The species from Cuba and the Bahamas hitchhiked to the Sunshine State on cargo ships back in the 1920s. Stowing away in cars and nursery plants, the frogs have now spread as far north as South Carolina.
The white, green or brown frogs may or may not have distinctive markings.
The fact that they are able to change color is what makes them hard to identify, said David Holmes, the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Director.
Patrick McMillan, of the ETV nature program "Expeditions with Patrick McMillan," said the chameleon-like animals can "change color from day to night, and depending on the light and their mood … but not just to blend in to different backgrounds."
The frogs have "bug-eyes," extremely large toe pads and secrete an irritating "slime" through their pebbly skin. The bones of juveniles are blue in color.
This cannibalistic frog "is larger than our native tree frogs, and frequently makes a meal of them," McMillan said.
The species also "eats our native lizards and toads, as well as small snakes," Holmes added.
Scientists attribute the reduction of those populations to Cuban tree frogs.
The frogs do have natural enemies, similar to other frogs, and population numbers can be diminished by extended cold snaps.
Sometimes the frogs climb into electrical switches and transformer boxes, shorting out the equipment and killing the frog. Thousands of dollars in repair work have been paid out due to this kind of damage. Steve Johnson, associate professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida, along with other scientists, is researching various products to repel the frog and solve this particular problem.
Cuban tree frogs are prolific egg layers — up to 15,000 eggs a season, which can hatch within 30 hours. The slimy masses of eggs found in places such as pools, buckets and ponds can be scooped out with a sieve and dropped to the ground to dry out.
In his IFAS article "Invasive Cuban Treefrogs in Florida," Johnson writes that "it is illegal (and irresponsible) to re-release them into our ecosystem." He offers directions for humanely euthanizing the frogs at http://goo.gl/Jry4AA.
Johnson said the problem is "not benign."
"They are quite literally eating our native species alive," he said.
To learn more about Cuban tree frogs and other invasive wildlife, go to http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu.