Spend enough time in Southwest Florida, and unfortunately you will become familiar with the name Cane Toad ( Bufo Toad ). A name that strikes fear into the hearts of pet owners, the Cane Toad is a large invasive toad that is poisonous to both domesticated pets and native wildlife. What follows is a primer course on these invading amphibians.
Cane Toads were first introduced to Florida in order to protect the sugar cane crop from destructive pests, thereby earning the nickname of Cane Toad. Through a series of accidental and deliberate releases by both importers & animal dealers, subsequent footholds were established across the state and soon the expansion began. Currently, Cane Toads in SWFL are expanding both North and East with sightings reported in several preserves.
Appearance and Behavior
Cane Toads are by far the largest toad that you will find in SWFL. Most adults will measure in between 5-9 inches, for comparison the Southern Toad will only grow to around half that size. Cane Toads have large triangular shaped parotoid glands over their front shoulders, which is where the poison is both produced and stored. Coloration will vary, however reddish-brown, grayish-brown and light yellow are all common. Juvenile Cane Toads can be seen during the day and are often difficult to distinguish from native Southern Toads. Adult Cane Toads are more likely to be seen after sunset, when they come out to both hunt and breed. While capable of breeding year round, the Cane Toad spawning season typically starts in March and continues until September.
Diet and Cannibalism
A Cane Toad will eat anything that it thinks can fit in their mouth. This includes all sorts of invertebrates, amphibians, birds, snakes, rodents, pet food and even other Cane Toads. It is thought that because of the fear of being eaten by a larger Cane Toad that the juvenile toadlets are oftentimes found outside during daylight hours. Even the native predators aren't safe due to the poisonous glands on their sides, making a meal out of a Cane Toad can result in deadly consequences. It is not known what kind of impact the blossoming Cane Toad population has had on our native wildlife, but historically there is a reduction in biodiversity when Cane Toads are introduced as an invasive species.
Once established in an area, Cane Toads are prolific breeders. The toads are present year round and are capable of reproducing throughout the entire year. One female can lay anywhere between 20,000 - 60,000 eggs. Visually they will look like long strands of black beads surrounding by a clear jelly. The eggs will hatch into tadpoles within several days and while the transition timeline from tadpole to toadlet can vary, most will complete the process within a few weeks. It's important to note that both the eggs and tadpoles are poisonous, so take proper precautions should you encounter them.