Cane toad

Cane toads, also known as bufo toads for the milky-white bufotoxin they produce, have been spotted in Pinellas.

Pet owners, beware the cane toad.

The cane toad, also known as the bufo toad, giant or marine toad, may be in your town, and if your pet encounters one, bites or eats one, the toad’s toxins could be fatal within 15 minutes.

Whatever you call them, these slippery creatures are bad actors in your yard.

Cane toad sightings have been reported around Pinellas County in recent years, including several in Dunedin last year. Most recently, on July 30, Belleair officials stated that residents found the amphibian in the backyard of their Osceola Road home.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, the cane toad, a non-native invasive species, has been with us since the 1930s, when it was introduced to control agricultural pests in sugar cane. But the creatures escaped the cane fields and gradually spread to the rest of the state. They are usually found south of the I-4 corridor, but Pinellas County has its share of the omnivorous, poisonous critters as well.

They love the recent wet weather, and they can be found just about anywhere.

“Cane toads are most commonly found in yards, around buildings and near canals or ponds,” said Lisa Thompson, a spokesperson for FWC. “They are often found on developed land in urban, suburban and agricultural areas.”

To fend off the cane toad, Thompson recommended that people cut their grass regularly and keep it short, fill any holes around structures, trim shrubs and bushes and keep the branches off the ground. You should also remove outside food sources, including pet food and human food from tables or grills. Since insects are part of the toad’s diet, keep items that attract bugs out of your yard.

If your pet bites or swallows a cane toad, wash their mouth with a hose, being careful not to spray the water down their throats. You should also wipe off their gums with a towel, then get them to a veterinarian.

The cane toad is not protected by law in Florida, except by anti-cruelty laws. That means you shouldn’t just brain them with a shovel. FWC recommends using a plastic bag to capture them, then refrigerate and freeze them as a humane way to kill the pests. In addition, spraying lidocaine or benzocaine on them is another humane way of dispatching the pests.

Cane toads are 6 to 9 nine inches long, are reddish-brown to grayish brown with a light yellow or beige belly, and the enlarged, triangular glands behind their eyes can secrete a milky-white toxin as a defense against predators. Like your pet.

All that being said, be careful to positively identify the toad, lest you needlessly kill a friendly, native species.

Humans are not immune from the toxins, and it is recommended that you use gloves or a plastic bag if you handle them. Skin or eye irritation is common if you are exposed to the toad’s poison.

For more information, go to https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/amphibians/cane-toad/.