There are hundreds of poisonous frogs and toads across the world. Some can kill with just a touch, while others may only cause minor irritation. Luckily for Floridians, there aren’t too many poisonous frogs or toads living in the state.
Three poisonous species live in Florida. These are the Cane Toad, the Cuban Treefrog, and the Cope’s Gray Treefrog. None of these species are harmful to humans, but they can pose a huge risk to our pets.
Interested in finding out how frogs work? Keep reading and we’ll explore the life cycle of frogs, how they sing, and how they hibernate. We’ll then learn why some frogs and toads are so poisonous, and how they don’t poison themselves.
The 3 Poisonous Frogs & Toads in Florida
The good news is that Florida doesn’t have too many poisonous frogs. But, if you live in Florida or are visiting, you’ll want to keep an eye out for these three toxic critters.
1. Cane Toad (Rhinella marina)
Cane toads are naturally found in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. They live downward to the Central Amazon and southeastern Peru. They were then introduced to other parts of the world, including South Florida. Cane toads are most prominent across Key West, Stock Island, Tampa Bay, Dad county, Broward county, and Hillsborough.
The cane toad has gray and brown skin on its back with a hint of olive coloration. It also contains several warts over its back topped with green. Its underside is a white to yellow color with brown mottling.
Besides their color, you can recognize these frogs from how they move. They sit upright as they move about, and their hops are short and quick.
When a cane toad feels threatened, it will release bufotoxin from glands on its back. The toxin will appear as a creamy white, viscous secretion. Bufotoxin contains cardioactive substances. These can kill smaller animals in a matter of hours. Even if the toad doesn’t secrete this toxin, it can still poison the animal. All it takes is for the animal to come in contact with the mucous membranes.
Symptoms of these toxins include extreme salivation accompanied by vomiting and shallow breathing. The poisoned animal may also begin to twitch. Its back legs may give out, and it may even experience temporary paralysis.
Fortunately, bufotoxin rarely affects human skin. But it can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes upon contact. Never ingest the toxin as your symptoms can grow more severe.
Cane toads are a real threat for those with dogs because they resemble a fun chew toy dogs can’t pass up. If you notice your dog experiencing these symptoms, take them to the emergency vet right away. The poison from a cane toad is enough to kill a dog within an hour.
2. Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis)
The Cuban Treefrog is native to Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Cayman Islands. Like the Cane Toad, this frog was introduced to Florida. It is an invasive species and lives along the coast of Florida from southern Tampa to Orlando and Miami.
These frogs prefer coastal, mountain, and forested areas. They also live in urban and suburban areas. They’re often found alongside buildings where insects are most abundant.
These frogs are large, ranging anywhere from 1-4.7 in (2.5-12 cm) long. They’re known as the largest treefrog in Florida large, bulging eyes. They have large, flat pads on the tips of their toes, allowing them to climb trees.
Most of these frogs have white or light brown backs with a white belly. Some of these frogs can also be green or dark brown instead.
The Cuban Treefrog protects itself against predators with its toxins. When caught in the mouth of a predator, the frog will inflate its body and release its toxins.
Luckily, these frogs don’t pose much threat to humans because you’ll rarely see them. They are nocturnal and terrestrial animals, so people aren’t likely to come across them too often.
These frogs are not very toxic to humans or pets. Their toxin isn’t very potent, so it will have little effect on larger animals. But if your pet gets ahold of a Cuban treefrog, its mouth may excessively salivate. If you handle one of these frogs barehanded, you may notice minor skin irritation.
3. Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis)
The Cope’s gray treefrog is the only poisonous frog native to Florida. These frogs live across North America as far north as southern Ontario and Maine. They stretch westward toward Manitoba and Texas, and as far south as Florida.
These treefrogs are on the smaller side, ranging from 1.2-2 in (3.2-5.1 cm) long.
A Cope’s gray treefrog is commonly gray with a rough texture. Some treefrogs may even be brown or green. They’re also likely to have black blotches across their backs. Though their backs are smoother than a toad’s, they also have warts.
Like most treefrogs, their toepads produce mucus. This allows them to stick to many surfaces for climbing.
The Cope’s Gray Treefrog is slightly toxic. It secretes a poison that covers its entire body to protect itself against predators who try to eat it. Luckily, these frogs are not very toxic to humans as long as you don’t put them in your mouth. But if you do touch them, you may experience irritation of the nose, eyes, and lips.
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Life Cycle Of Frogs
Frogs have a unique and complex life cycle much unlike our own.
There are three stages of a frog’s life cycle: egg, larva, and adult. A frog will go from one stage to the next in a process called “metamorphosis”. This process is common amongst most amphibians and some invertebrates.
The Mating Process
For life to begin, all animals must trigger a reproductive response. In frogs, the production of offspring occurs through sexual reproduction.
In temperate climates, most frogs will mate during spring. Frogs that live in tropical climates mate during the rainy season.
A frog’s body will signal when it’s time to reproduce. Changes in the season’s light and temperature let the frog know when it’s spring or summer. A frog’s pituitary gland knows what time of year it is by the hours of daylight and the average temperature.
The pituitary gland releases hormones that tell the ovary to produce estrogen. Estrogen, a type of hormone, tells the liver to create yolk proteins. The yolk proteins are then sent into the eggs which are waiting in the ovary.
Frog eggs must also go through a couple of rounds of cell division called meiotic division. A hormone will then signal for the egg to complete its first round of meiotic division. This hormone is produced by the ovaries and is called progesterone. After the first round is completed, the egg leaves the ovary for fertilization.
In Florida, the climate is either tropical or subtropical. Central and northern Florida are subtropical, while southern Florida is tropical. Frogs in Florida mate during the summer months when it rains the most.
A male’s reproductive system works similarly. They begin producing sperm during the summer months, preparing for the next season. By the time they go into hibernation, they will have all the sperm necessary for the next mating season.
To appeal to a mate, the male will croak loudly in an attempt to please the female. If the female accepts this call, the mating process will begin.
The male will mount the female and clasp around her waist with his front legs. This is a position called “amplexus”. It ensures that they are in the perfect position to fertilize the eggs.
How many eggs a frog lays depends on the species, but frogs can produce anywhere between 2,000 and 20,000 eggs at once.
In most species, there is a jelly-like substance covering the egg. This coating attracts sperm for fertilization. It also protects the egg from bacteria and predators by increasing the egg’s size.
Where a frog chooses to lay its eggs depends on the species. Yet, most frogs will lay their eggs in calmer waters where there is vegetation to protect the eggs.
Eggs are laid in large masses that clump together and stick to vegetation. These clumps of eggs are called “spawn”, which attach to vegetation or other features. This allows for better protection during development.
Other species may not offer their eggs any protection. These unprotected eggs are left to float in the open water of a pond or similar water body. Though some frogs watch over their eggs as they develop, most leave them to fend for themselves.
As the egg develops, the yolk inside the egg transforms into a tadpole. This process takes between 1-3 weeks. Once the tadpole is completely developed, the egg will hatch, and the tadpole will be free.
Tadpoles are a type of larvae. Many frog species remain tadpoles for weeks until completely turning into adults.
In this stage, a tadpole’s body comprises a mouth, a set of gills that are not fully formed, and a very long tail for a body.
During the first couple of weeks, the tadpole is too vulnerable and weak to even move. In order for it to grow, it absorbs the remaining yolk from its shell for nutrients. Once the yolk is completely absorbed, the tadpoles are strong enough to swim around.
Without any more yolk, tadpoles seek out other sources of nutrients. In the beginning stages, tadpoles are strictly herbivorous, dining only on aquatic vegetation.
As weeks pass, the tadpole continues to grow. Its back legs begin to develop and it turns from a strictly herbaceous diet to an omnivorous one. Their diet still largely consists of plant matter, but they will begin to eat insects as well.
As the frog grows further, its tail shrinks and almost disappears. They develop front limbs to go with their hind ones and skin to cover their gills.
It takes about 12 weeks for a tadpole to completely transform into an adult frog. To be an adult, the gills and tail is absorbed into the frog’s body. These features allow the frog to breathe air and hop. Thus, they’re able to roam about on land and in water.
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How Do Frogs Sing?
If you live around frogs, you’ve probably heard them sing. It can be very soothing to listen to, but have you ever wondered how and why they sing?
The “why” is quite obvious — the frogs are looking for mates. Their vocal cords have evolved to allow them to produce different sounds and rhythms. Females like males with the most impressive song, so he must give it his all.
The sound a frog produces says a lot about the frog’s health and size. This allows the female to choose which frog she feels is best.
The downside is that singing takes a lot of energy. To sing, frogs must push air from the lungs and through the larynx. The air pushes into a specific oral cavity that we refer to as a mouth sac. This air sac acts as a resonance chamber that magnifies the sound the frog produces.
On top of that, a singing session may last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
Not only is singing exhausting, but it keeps the male from eating properly! This isn’t because the mouth sac prevents them from eating. Rather, it’s because the males would rather spend their time finding a female. That’s why many males lose up to 16% of their original body weight after mating season.
How Do Frogs Hibernate?
Frogs are cold-blooded animals, also known as “ectotherms’’. This means they get their heat from the environment. However, they don’t do very well during winter because their bodies can’t stay warm. That’s why frogs go into hibernation.
As the temperature drops, frogs seek a good place to hibernate where they won’t become frozen. Many frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds where the water stays warmer. That’s because water at the bottom of ponds stays warmer than water at the surface.
During hibernation, a frog’s metabolism slows down significantly. When its metabolism drops, its body requires less oxygen and cools down.
To survive, frogs need to breathe air. During hibernation, frogs collect oxygen from the water through diffusion. Instead of seeking food, frogs in hibernation live off of their stored fat.
Frogs also protect their eyes with a “nictitating membrane”, a transparent third eyelid. Aside from protection, this special eyelid provides moisture for their eyes.
Once at the bottom of the pond, frogs spread out their limbs. Placing themselves in this position prevents them from moving from their resting spot.
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How Frogs Don’t Poison Themselves?
Some frogs have toxins 200 times more powerful than morphine. These frogs live in South America rather than Florida. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about such toxicity.
However, Florida’s poisonous frogs do contain deadly poisons. But how do they manage not to poison themselves? Simply put, their nervous systems have evolved to fight off the toxins in the poison.
In fact, poisonous frogs don’t actually create their own poison. Instead, they get their poison from eating mites and ants.
Bufotoxin is a potent poison that is moderately toxic upon contact. Fatal when ingested, this toxin is commonly secreted by amphibians such as cane toads.
Bufotoxin contains several components, including bufagin, bufotenine, and serotonin. Bufagin negatively affects the heart, while bufotenine acts as a hallucinogen. Serotonin acts as a vasoconstrictor and can slow or block blood flow.