Ok, maybe "Giant Killer Toads invade South Florida" is a bit melodramatic but it did get your attention and the threat is real.
The bufo toad (Bufo marinus) (also known as marine toad, giant toad, cane toad) is a huge brown to grayish-brown toad with a creamy yellow belly and deeply-pitted parotoid glands extending down the back(1). Adult giant toads generally range in size from 6 to 9in (15 to 23cm), but may get larger(1). They are replacing the native southern toad (Bufo terrestris) in the cities of southern Florida(2).
The first attempted introduction of this toad was in 1936, the Agricultural Experimental Station of the University of Florida imported 200 marine toads from Puerto Rico and released them at Canal Point and Belle Glade in Palm Beach County Florida to control sugar cane pests(2). But the current population was released prior to May 1955 near Miami’s airport(2). It is a relatively long-lived toad reaching ages up to ten years(3).
The bufo toad sits in an upright position when it moves, it hops in short fast hops(3). When confronted by a predator, it is able to "shoot" bufo toxin from the parotoid and other glands on the back in the form of white viscous venom(3). The secretions are highly toxic to dogs, cats, and other animals, and can cause skin irritation in humans(1). The marine toads are most frequently seen under the street lights of the suburbs(2).
To avoid attracting toads to areas where pets are, do not leave pet food in open dishes in the yard. Bufo's are attracted to dogs' watering dishes, and may sit in the rim long enough to leave enough toxin to make a dog ill. Dogs may mouth bufo toads, thus getting a large dose of the bufo's toxins, secreted from the skin and parotoid glands. Symptoms generally include profuse foamy salivation that looks like shaving cream, difficulty breathing, brick red gums, convulsions, paralysis, ventricular fibrillation, vomiting, and uncoordinated staggering. Untreated, the death rate for Bufo marinus may approach 100%(4).
Keeping your dog on a leash and well supervised when outdoors should be sufficient to prevent bufo toad toxicity. We suggest you carry a flashlight at night, so that if the dog seems overly curious about something you can check it out. These toads don't actually attack, but a curious dog sniffing or licking the toad can get poisoned as a result.
Bufo toads (actually that's redundant as bufo is latin for toad) are seen mostly during the rainy season (late May to mid October) and most often at night, near lighted areas, as they are attracted by the bugs. They are seen much less frequently during daylight hours, but can be found hiding under vegetation.
One of the ways to reduce toads in your yard is to eliminate potential food sources. Leaving uneaten pet food out in the yard can attract toads.
At Fondren Pet Care Center we see only a few cases of bufo toad toxicity each year. By educating our clients about the potential hazards we've reduced the incident of encounters with toads. The Pet Emergency Clinic sees about a half dozen cases monthly with higher rates during the rainy season.
Immediately rinse out the pet’s mouth with a drippy wet wash cloth several times to remove any toxin from the mouth. Do not use a hose to rinse the mouth as water can easily be forced into the lungs causing more problems. Proceed to the nearest veterinary clinic or emergency clinic as time is of the essence. The smaller the pet or the larger the toad, the greater there is a risk of toxicity.
━━━━ Do not attempt to treat this at home ━━━━
Untreated, the death rate for Bufo marinus may approach 100%
These toads are a non-native species and are not protected. They can be removed and disposed of humanely, by placing them in a plastic container (or bag) in the freezer for three days and then burying the carcasses. If you do not wish to handle the toads, contact a local nuisance animal trapper(4).
The native Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) is sometimes mistaken for the Giant Toad. Here are a few ways to tell these toads apart:
Click this link for a short video (3:00 min.) from National Geographic on this killer toad in Australia.