Thousands of Poisonous Toads Have Overrun a Florida Town

Warm weather and heavy rainfall sparked a massive breeding cycle for the invasive toads.

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Mar 26 2019, 8:26pm

A cane toad near Tampa, Florida. Image: Bill Waller

South Floridians are dealing with an infestation of thousands of toxic cane toads, which locals say are are clogging pool filters, swarming sidewalks, and putting native wildlife at risk.

Palm Beach Gardens, a suburb of Miami, has become a hotspot for the toads, which can poison pets and children. The region has been experiencing heavy rains and unusually warm weather since early February, which may have encouraged the invasive amphibians to breed.

Cane toads, also known as bufo toads, are native to South and Central America, but were deliberately introduced to ecosystems around the world during the 20th century to combat agricultural pests. The toads rapidly upset the delicate ecological balance of places ranging from Australia to Hawaii.

Though the cane toad’s natural range extends to Texas, they are considered an invasive species in Florida, having been introduced to the state through both accidental and deliberate releases dating back to the 1950s.

Despite their unassuming size, these toads are known for ravaging local biodiversity due to their insatiable appetites and highly effective toxic defense system. If they feel threatened, the amphibians secrete a creamy substance called bufotoxin from glands in their skin.

Ingestion of the poison can cause convulsions, paralysis, and death in a wide range of animals. In extremely rare cases, people have been killed by the toad’s poison. Cane toads are poisonous throughout their life cycle, including when they are still tadpoles.

The toads prefer to mate during wet seasons, and females can lay up to 30,000 eggs at a time. They grow rapidly in warm tropical weather, which is probably why Florida has become so overrun with them lately.

"With the warmer winter and then we had a rain two to three weeks ago, a torrential rain, that caused them to go into a breeding cycle," Mark Holladay, a lead technician with the pest control company Toad Busters, told WPTV.

"There will be another influx like this in 22 days when the next batch hatches out, and this is in every community in Florida," Holladay warned.

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