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Are We Being Invaded by Cuban Treefrogs? Maybe…

We have written about this guy before.  The Cuban Treefrog is a potential threat to the Florida panhandle.  According to EDDMapS, there are 13 records between Pensacola and Madison County.  The records I am aware of are single individuals who appeared after the homeowner purchased landscaping plants (or flowers) from a local “box store”.  In the last couple of weeks, I have again heard of two cases where individuals were found either at the “box store” garden center – or on their property after purchasing plants from such.

This Cuban Treefrog was found at a construction site of a new home in Pensacola.
Photo: Keith Wilkins

We all know that one individual does not a problem make.  However, if multiple people continue to find them and they escape.  Then eventually the numbers could get high enough where breeding populations could form.  It is known that CTFs prefer to hang around humans and are not common in natural areas.  So, this COULD make it easier for them to find each other over time and populations begin to establish themselves.  We do not want this.

 

Why? What problem can a small frog cause?

 

Well, first – they are (as many invasive species are) aggressive consumers – feeding on local treefrogs to where their populations begin to decline.  With that “space” left open, the invasive species quickly fills in and increases their populations.  Over time you have a “monoculture” of CTFs and lower biological diversity within the local frog populations.

 

Is this a problem?  Does it matter which frog is occupying the space?

It can.  Lower biodiversity can make it difficult for frog populations to recover from environmental stress, such as changes in habitat, damage due to storms, changes in prey species.  Lower biodiversity can make populations more susceptible to the spread of disease and the potential elimination of the species because no one in the population is genetically different enough so that there are those with resistant genes.  Then there is the case as to whether the native frog predators will eat the invasive CTFs.  They do have a strong enough toxin in their skin to cause allergic reactions in humans.  This could be enough to keep the predators from eating.  This will cause the CTFs populations to increase even more (classic invasive story – fewer predators) and the decline of native frog predators – some of which can directly, or indirectly, can have an economic impact on our community.  So, yes – it can matter.

A Cuban Treefrog found by the author while in south Florida. To show possible size.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Second, CTFs are known to “hang out” in electrical panels.  As many as 30 were found in one electric panel at the zoo in New Orleans.  Inhabiting such places have been known to cause electrical problems, including short circuiting HVAC systems.  We do not want this.

 

Third, their calls have been described as “loud and sounding like a squeaky screen door”.  This apparently drives some folks crazy.  The noise is just too much.  Of course, you would need a lot of CTFs to create such an unwanted serenade, but (reading above) you can see this could happen.

 

So, we would like to stop this before they become established, like the brown anoles and the lionfish.

What can we do?

 

First, be aware of what you are bringing home when you purchase landscaping plants from local vendors.  Find out where their plants are grown and, if from the central/south Florida area, inspect the plant BEFORE you bring it home to make sure you are not bringing home anything else.

 

Second, if you find one – please consider reporting it.  You can do this at www.EDDMapS.org.  Log in (you will need a password – it is free) and report new sighting.  If you get confused on how contact your local extension office and they can help walk you through it.

Get a photo if possible.  We want to verify that it is a CTF and not one of the local native ones.

Though they can change colors, this is the basic pattern of a Cuban Treefrog.
Photo: UF IFAS

How do you tell them apart?

First, it must be a treefrog.  Treefrogs will have webbed feet but there are large toepads at the end of each toe so that it can cling to trees, and the side of your house.

Second, CTFs are much larger.  Our native treefrogs will reach about 2”, CTFs can reach 5”.

Third, what if it is a small CTF?  If you turn them over, you will see their skeleton through the skin – and it will appear blue – the native species are not blue.

Fourth, they have “warty” skin.  Many of the natives will have smooth skin.  The local cricket frogs will have warty skin, but they are smaller and have a triangle shaped dark spot on top of the head between the eyes – the Cuban Treefrog does not have this.

Fifth, they do not have stripes.  They may be solid in color or have patches of darker areas.  They can change color and have been seen as green, gray, brown, and even a light beige/white color.

Sixth, the skin between their eyes is fused to their skulls – not so in the native frogs.

 

Note: the CTF does produce a strong toxin through the skin.  Though not deadly, it can be irritating to the skin and more so to the face.  If you handle without gloves, you should not touch your face until you have washed well.

 

Third, educate your neighbors to let them know.  Not just about the CTF but other potential invasive threats that could be hitchhiking up this way.  With a community effort we should be able to keep them from establishing here.