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What You Do Will--or Won't--Bring Cane Toads to Your Yard

Courtesy Steve Johnson
A cane toad in Naples.

Florida is the global epicenter for invasive species of reptiles and amphibians. One in particular is especially dangerous to dogs and cats. The cane toad was first brought to Florida by the sugar industry to control the cane beetle. Then the pet industry brought them in. Now, the cane toad is acclimated and threatens pets.

While the cane toad can have negative impacts on the environment by eating native species of insects and small snakes, they're impacting people, through toxic poisoning of their pets.

Steve Johnson is associate professor and State Extension Specialist of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He and his students study the poisonous toad. He says the cane toad, also known as the Bufo toad, did not work to control cane beetles, but they have had major impacts on the environment. Now that they’re established, we have to live with them, and they're causing a lot of damage.

"The cane toads have two large glands …and they contain a really nasty toxin, a poison. And when put under pressure, that poison squirts out, and it's very thick and viscous. .. if a dog was to bite down on one, that toad as a defensive mechanism, will emit that toxin," said Johnson.

The poison can kill a dog or a cat, or at the very least, make them quite sick and lead to an expensive visit to the vet.

"On warm rainy nights in Central and South Florida where the cane toads occur, that's the time when they're most likely to be out and about," said Johnson.

Johnson points to organized neighborhood toad busting groups as one way to rid a community of the toads, There are also several businesses that will remove them.

However, Johnson says the best thing to do is to make your yard less attractive to the toads by using exterior bug lights that are yellow, not leaving pet food or water outside after dark, and removing brush piles where toads could hide. If you’re walking your dog at night, keep it on a short leash.

"I would discourage people from thinking they can put out some chemical to dissuade cane toads from coming in their yard or snakes for that matter," said Johnson.

Mothballs don't work and I'm just very skeptical about these other products that profess to keep toads away. I think that's not worth somebody's time. And it'd be a false sense of security for you to use those products," he adds.

He also encourages people to educate their neighbors.

Invasive cane toads can be confused for native southern toads due to their similar shape and size, but there are clear differences. Native southern toads have bilateral crests on top of their heads while invasive cane toads do not. Native toads have oval shaped glands on both sides of their head, whereas the cane toad's glands are larger and more triangular in shape. Additionally, cane toads are not very good jumpers.