Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Open the Box

Remember the mysterious box I carried on a plane? Do you remember what was in it? Do you remember the toads that kept me up at night. Night after night?

On my last Everglades tour I was handed a box and told not to open it. The box was about 12"x 12" and when I picked it up it shook. What's in it? A giant toad! How big could it be? I opened the box. The toad was huge.Cane Toads (Bufo marinus) were introduced into the Everglades in 1955 to help control grubs and other pests in the sugar cane fields. They range from the Rio Grande down into South America but are a nuisance not only here in the swamps and farms but throughout the world, most notably in Australia.

The problem with Cane Toads is that when threatened, they produce a nasty neurotoxin - a milky substance that they release from the paratoid gland at the back of their head. They may not give warts, but those bumps can secrete a liquid that will burn your eyes and cause a rash on your skin. Predators that eat them are poisoned which often kills them. This is an obvious problem for our native wildlife including other frogs and toads that unknowingly feed on smaller Cane Toads. Survival rate is not good. Cane Toads (AKA Giant Toad or arine Toad) also compete with our native amphibians for food. This one was huge. About the size of a cantelope. I didn't squeeze it for freshness. The largest recorded Cane Toad was 15 inches long and weighed nearly 6 pounds. This one was about 8 inches long. And I'm guessing 25 pounds. I didn't weigh it.

Eventually this one will end up as Boa Constrictor food. Boas are immune to the toxin.

Selfishly I take exception to their presence because they inhabit the pond outside the apartment and sing a deafening chorus during the breeding season. Imagine a WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA at the same decibel as an 18 wheeler and you get the idea.

I'm not sure how to end this. But all is quiet outside tonight.


  1. That toad looks like King Koopa, from Mario Bros.

  2. Pete,

    You've seen the movie, right? It's so great. A favorite with my students, too. Everyone reading this, go rent CANE TOAD!

    When I was a student at New College, the flat field surrounding the Pei dorms (no landscaping, as the college ran out of money after building the buildings) would flood with rain and the Southern Toads would congregate in enormous numbers. Their song is a lot like the American toads, but about an octave higher. A couple hundred of those singing for hours each night for a week or two -- wow! It was really amazing. I didn't know enough about them then to really learn their life cycle, and I doubt that still happens there, forty years later. Likely it's all developed and toadless.

    I'm very glad to hear that boas can eat cane toads. A public service.

  3. the toads don't mind people. They're everywhere....

  4. We have a small, man-made pond in our back yard, and it has toads in it. When it's mating season they make an unbelievable racket. I try to put up with it thinking that amphibians are disappearing, so I'm happy that we're providing a good environment for them. But on the third night or so, my husband goes out and rounds up as many as he can get his hands on and takes them to the creek that runs through our neighborhood and sets them free. Our neighbors joke that the next morning they always see a line of toads hopping back to our house.

  5. Even if that's not true - I love the image....