First, there were murder hornets. Now, invasive, poisonous toads are the latest bizarre creature to go wild in the U.S. As South Florida enters its wet season aka hurricane season, the cane toad—an ugly, warty, brown amphibian with poison can kill pet dogs—is thriving. That’s not only concerning for pet owners. These toads are highly destructive to the environment.
The cane toad is native to South America, Central America, and parts of southern Texas. Florida, though? Nope. Humans are to blame for the species’ presence there. In 1936, people brought about 200 of these ugly boys to Florida in an attempt to keep insects from damaging sugarcane fields. That failed miserably as the cane toads just ate, well, everything.
The toads decimate the food available for other native species that contribute to a healthy ecosystem, including insects and other small lizards. At the same time, their poison protects them from any predators. The Fish and Wildlife Service designated them in 2018 as a “high” risk species due to the damage the animals inflict on the environment.
Now, cane toad number are increasing in South Florida due to heavy rain, reports the Miami Herald. Toads start out as tadpoles, and those little guys need water to grow. When it rains, the population grows because more tadpoles make it to adulthood. Beyond the environmental destruction, there’s also a very real threat to pets and people living in cane toad country.
The toxins that fill their glands can kill a pet that might decide to lick or bite it. Humans can also suffer if the poison gets into a mucous membrane like the eyes, where it can cause “intense pain, temporary blindness and inflammation.” Suffice to say, Floridians are not welcoming these gross-looking toads into their yards. One local mom referred to them as “monsters” in a Facebook posted the Miami Herald reported on. I can see why. Last year, the animals made news, too, as their numbers exploded after a wet winter in Florida. The baby toads emerged from their underground burrows only to clog up pool filters, cover driveways, and take over lawns.
What sucks even more is that climate change could make these toxic toads more common. As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water. That’s increasing the odds of extreme rain events throughout North America. That’s bad news for many parts of the country because heavier deluges can threaten infrastructure and harm human life. It could unfortunately be good news for these weird poisonous cane toads that kill pets and seemingly eat everything. Unless the state implements a proper plan to get rid of these pests, the cane toad appears to be there for the long haul.