It was a beautiful sunny day in the EDU-Garden®, when a sudden flash of movement caught my eye. “Whoa,” I thought, “that is a Cane Toad, a Rhinella marina, formerly a Bufo frog or Bufo marinus and there are two of them hopping around enjoying some overhead water spraying.” Now, who knows why they changed its name and its whole scientific classification, but I have an idea it is because they were imported from Central and South America to the sugarcane fields to control grubs. These toads are not singular to us as Australia grows sugar cane and they imported them too. Of course, there was also the case of the Miami pet store owner who allowed a number of them to escape! Before you know it, you’ve got an invasive species taking hold in our ecosystem! They can lay 30,000 eggs in a single clutch and so you cannot possibly stay ahead of that!
Many of you know that the EDU-Garden® is not just a garden but also a farm and more importantly a very large outdoor scientific laboratory. The pictures you see are Ms. Sam and I trying to capture a Cane toad, unsuccessfully. Despite Ms. Sam’s fast and fearless pursuit, it turned into a hysterical comedy of errors as we caught it, only for it to escape again when Mr. Gus tried to “help”. While poisonous, the threat posed to our students is minimal. They know not to pick them up – even if they did manage to get a hold of one. The venom is water soluble, and while it only causes minor irritations on us humans it is very dangerous for your pets. Dogs, usually terriers, will chase them and sometimes catch them. If your dog gets venom in his eyes or mouth, grab a garden hose and spray so the water goes away from your dog – not down his gullet!
We also teach our students that these animals did not ask to be here and though we need to control their populations, we must do so humanely. Invasive species are a big problem here in Florida. They affect the environment, threaten our health, and hurt our economy. According to one source, “Florida hosts more non-native reptile and amphibian species than anywhere else in the world and costs Floridians more than 500 million dollars each year.”
Remember, don't even think about purchasing invasive species or harboring them, if you can help it. If you do happen to come into contact with one, Florida Fish and Wildlife can help you. Certainly they are interesting, some are even cute, but learn about them in your science classes and observe them in zoos and aquariums and videos- not in our eco-system.
For more information about invasive species in South Florida, visit www.evergladescisma.org/ and www.wec.ufl.edu.