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Upcoming Florida rains to amplify breeding of invasive Cuban tree frogs

A Cuban tree frog with its visibly large toe pads. (Courtesy UF IFAS)
A Cuban tree frog with its visibly large toe pads. (Courtesy UF IFAS)

The invasive, and elusive, Cuban tree frog has spread throughout Florida, requiring only a puddle of water to breed.

With spring rain on the horizon, Dr. Steve Johnson, a professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, said seasonal reproduction rates are about to skyrocket.

“These frogs will breed in, like a roadside ditch, small little pond or retention pond or unkept swimming pools,” Johnson said.

“Florida, sadly, is the global epicenter for introduced species. So, when it comes to non-native species of amphibians and reptiles, there's nowhere else in the world, you know, comparable to Florida that has as many species that are introduced” said Johnson.

The invasive frogs have been in Florida since the early 1900s, likely arriving via ships from their native Cuba. According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, Cuban tree frogs are hardy and destructive. “Cuban tree frogs eat at least five different species of native frogs, including native tree frogs, as well as toads, lizards, and small snakes,” according to IFAS.

Cuban treefrog tadpoles will even prey upon the tadpoles of squirrel treefrogs and, upon contact, the mucus from their skin can irritate human eyes and trigger asthma.

Like green iguanas and Burmese Pythons in Florida, Cuban tree frogs are an invasive species that are hard to control, difficult to spot and even harder to kill.

“I understand it's not the frog's fault; they're here, right? But we should do something about it,” said Johnson.

Community conflicts: Should we kill them?

Jimmy Wilson, 54, has been an Alachua County resident since 1998 and speaks fondly of his “Cuban friends.” He has known about the frogs for the better half of six years. “I treat the frogs like humans from Cuba; they made it here so they can stay,” he said. “I don’t kill any animals even though I understand their invasiveness; I just can’t kill an animal other than to eat.”

Alachua County resident Jimmy Wilson loves his “Cuban Friends.” He does not want to see any of them killed. (Courtesy Jimmy Wilson)

He has even driven several miles after finding one on his car, not wanting to “drop it off miles from its home.”

London Allen, a resident of Jonesville, struggles with the frogs–and killing them. “I killed maybe two when they first started showing up 6 years ago, but it made me sad, so I couldn’t continue,” she said.

Another resident, Delia Creel, 20, from Micanopy, said the Cuban frogs are “absolutely ruthless,” but she does not kill them.

“When walking to my car after seeing that one, hundreds of little babies would be in the grass hopping trying to avoid my feet. Then, when driving down my driveway, they would be jumping from puddle to puddle,” she said

However, Alachua County resident Max Meucci has a different approach. “A long time ago, I found a couple by my light on my front door, you know? So, I captured them,” he said.

Once he identified the frogs from a Facebook group dedicated to this, he decided “to humanely kill it by placing it in the freezer.”

Preserved specimens from Dr Steve Johnson’s lab. He uses these to educate students about the Cuban Tree frog and their differences from native frogs. (Daniella Rudolph/ WUFT News)

Johnson explained that freezing the frogs is a scientifically proven way to kill them. If you can catch one, he recommends using a bag over your hand, with benzocaine or lidocaine ointment (a gel or a spray used for toothaches and sunburn) inside the bag to act as a sedative. Then, he says, you put them in the fridge for about four hours, then into the freezer for a day until they have expired.

Johnson said he has a “professional philosophy that any animal that is not native to Florida should not be living in the wild at large, and, you know, having a reproducing population in the state.”

Identifying Florida’s foe

“Cuban treefrogs can be challenging to identify since their skin can range from tan or light gray to olive green,” and even change color, said Ryan Sheets, the Public Information Director from the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation for the North Central Region. He said the best way to identify them is by their unusually large feet.

They will also climb, something many frog species, like toads, cannot do. “If you see a frog attached to your door or window or on the side of a building, it's going to be a tree frog,” said Johnson.

The future for frogs

“Are we ever going to get rid of Cuban tree frogs in Florida? No. I'm pretty darn confident that's never going to happen. Their range is continuing to expand in the panhandle, even outside Florida.” said Johnson.

As of now, there are no community programs run by the state, or UF, to control the frogs.

However, Johnson explained that there is evidence showing that when enough Cuban tree frogs are removed from an area, native tree frogs respond positively–if they are still around.

Allen and Creel, Jonesville and Micanopy residents, say while they would not kill the frogs, they would join a community effort to capture them. Allen suggested involving children: “Kids love catching frogs,” she said.

However, Meucci and Wilson were not inclined to help culling. “It's just a fact that there's so many of them. One female Cuban can produce hundreds of babies per breeding cycle, some like a crazy number of tadpoles. Killing one out of hundreds is not going to do much,” Meucci said.

Colorado State University’s weather forecasters have predicted that this year's hurricane season is going to be an extremely active one, bringing extra rain–and lots and lots of puddles.

Daniella is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing