Two weeks ago Darlene Humphreys, who works at the St. Augustine Lighthouse, asked me about huge tree frogs climbing up the walls of her home and coming to rest on the outside of the windows every night. I asked Darlene and her husband, Jay, to take pictures so I could identify these frogs. Two days later they sent several pictures via e-mail.
In one picture Jay placed his hand beside a frog on the window so its size was immediately easy to see. The frog was at least 4 Â½ inches long and would cover the palm of a human hand. Its toes ended in the familiar round tree frog toe pads, but this was definitely not a Florida tree frog. It has warty skin and can be cream or pale brown. The one in Darleneâ€™s picture had pale green around the back legs and huge eyes.
These Giant Cuban Tree Frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) didnâ€™t invade Florida on their own. They came into Florida in the early 1920s on shipping crates and plants from Cuba, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. They found Floridaâ€™s climate just right and began to spread from the Keys and South Florida into north Florida. Recently they have been found as far north as Savannah, Georgia. One researcher with the University of Floridaâ€™s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center said, â€œWe donâ€™t really know how serious the issue is. Theyâ€™re not going to attract the attention of citrus canker or some other problem that has huge economic importance.â€ But they are already having an impact on the native tree frogs of Florida.
They donâ€™t just compete with our smaller tree frogs for food, they eat the smaller native tree
frogs and may quickly take over a pond and eat tadpoles, minnows or goldfish. If they become established in natural areas, they could have a huge impact by completely wiping out Floridaâ€™s native tree frogs.
No solution has been recommended yet, but researchers urge people to capture or kill the Cuban Tree Frogs. Most people are reluctant to outright kill these frogs. The most humane way is to put them in plastic containers and put them in the freezer. But it may be too late to close this Pandora’s box. They seem to be attracted to urban areas but releasing them in natural areas could prove to be even more devastating. Be careful, these frogs have a toxic secretion irritating to your eyes and mouth. Wash your hands after handling.
Most people can’t resist that gnome-like appearance and those huge eyes and simply leave them alone. An alternative to killing them would be to adopt one as a pet–since they are invaders and not native you can capture one as a pet. But be sure to get the right sized aquarium and be prepared to provide the proper food: it’s said they’ll eat anything they can catch and fit into their mouths! Souces say there’s lots of care involved: keeping the humidity and temperature just right, cleaning the cage or aquarium (lots of poop), providing the right amount of food. Check out web sites that cover the behavior and care of the Cuban Tree Frog.
There have been many invasion scares in Florida, some very serious, others not so serious. The giant toad plaguing Miami is a serious threat as are the boa constrictors and pythons released in the Everglades. The Cuban brown anole has not turned out to be as threatening to the native green anoles as feared–they have simply agreed to disagree and the green anoles are found higher in bushes and trees while the brown anole prefers to remain on the ground and fences.We don’t know how much an impact these Giant Cuban tree frogs will have. But it is a reminder that many exotics that become pests have been deliberately released when owners get tired of caring for them or the animal becomes a bigger problem than buyers expected.
Good advice: think ten times twice before buying any exotic animal. If you do buy, read everything you can get your hands on about the behaviors and needs of the animal. And, never release any exotic into Florida’s habitats. Once it’s yours, accept responsibility for the commitment. [Photos by Jay Humphreys taken at their home]