Floridians don't have to kill every toad they find



Among the notably unpleasant people I've encountered in my life was a woman wielding a long-handled dip net in a South Florida public garden.

The sweaty lady was jabbing the net into an ornamental pond, coming up with pounds of aquatic plants and flinging the stuff over her shoulder onto a sunny lawn.

Bufo marinus is a Florida today. (Herald-Tribune archive)

Bufo marinus is a Florida toad.
(Herald-Tribune archive)

In response to my "What's up?" she said, "I'm getting these bufo toad tadpoles out of the pond."

Which is when I noticed that the clumps of aquatic plants on the turf behind her were full of tadpoles as well as minnows, all doomed to die slow deaths in the sun.

Realizing the obviously heartless woman couldn't be reached on moral grounds, I just asked her, "How do you tell the difference between one species of tadpole and the others?" Her only response was a look of incomprehension.

I mentioned this encounter because I've been hearing about "bufo toads" in the media, as well as from average folks.

Listen, guys: Bufo is a genus, and numerous toads around the world are Bufo species, including the kinds considered gardeners' friends -- the kinds people set out terracotta toadhouses for. In fact all toads belong to the Bufonidae family.

But I'm afraid the fear and animosity generated by the dangerous-to-pets giant cane toad (Bufo marinus) will spill over to our native, beneficial toads.

The incredibly prolific Tropical American cane toad, deliberately imported to control pests in South Florida's cane fields, exudes a particularly toxic substance when attacked by animals, including dogs and cats.

And due to cane toads' breathtaking dimensions (the largest found had a 15-inch-long body and weighed nearly six pounds), these exotic amphibians are able to snack on a wide range of smaller creatures, including other species of toads.

That means our native toads will be facing a three-pronged attack from natural predators, voracious cane toads and ignorant humans -- like that dip-net gal -- who think every toad they see is a cane toad.

My advice, therefore, is to protect -- not molest -- toads you come across unless their size (more than 4 inches long, not including legs) makes it obvious you're not dealing with a native species.

To learn how to identify and humanely destroy cane toads, visit edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw345.

Charles Reynolds, a Winter Haven resident, has an associate degree in horticulture and is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America.

Last modified: October 4, 2013
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