First, the invasion seems to be silently spreading. A just a couple of years ago we had very few records, one off individuals that were removed by those reporting. But they have slowly, and quietly, been spreading. A couple of years ago there was a report of a small group of them near Tyndall AFB in Panama City. Dr. Steve Johnson, University of Florida, decided to see if this small group survived the winter, they did. It was confirmed as the first breeding population in the panhandle. Then the one off reports began increasing again.
One area in Santa Rosa County was recording numerous individuals. These reports continued over the winter, and it seems they were breeding there as well. In my neck of the woods, Pensacola, I am getting more calls about them. EDDMapS currently list 18 records in the panhandle. This is definitely underreported. Most of those are in the Panama City area. The entire invasion reminds me of the Cuban (Brown) Anole; quietly increasing numbers while we watch and wonder what to do.
Second has to do with that issue… what to do. Managing invasive plants seems to be easier that invasive animals. People seem to be fine with pulling or spraying weeds. But euthanizing animals is another thing. And I get it, I like frogs too. Ending any life is hard to do. This makes managing this species much harder.
One way to look at next steps is to stop the introduction of any more species. We are pretty sure the primary method of introduction is what we call “hitchhiking”. Most of the plants we purchase for our landscaping projects come from large commercial nurseries in south Florida. Here they are grown by the hundreds of thousands, loading on trucks, and brought to our part of the state. Unbeknown to us, other small creatures are hitchhiking on these plants and their containers. Some of these are invasive species like the Cuban (Brown) Anole, and the Cuban Treefrog. At one time, this was not as much of a concern because they would not survive our cold winters. But our winters are not as cold anymore. Hard freezes do occur, and this may still be our best management plan, but with fewer hard freezes breeding populations will be allowed to continue the invasion. And it could be that with higher numbers of Cuban Treefrogs in the area, some will survive these freezes to continue. This has certainly happened with the Cuban (Brown) Anole.
So, I am not sure. The answer may be no to this one. One thing we can do is help monitor their populations. When we see a Cuban Treefrog report it to EDDMapS or your county extension office. This will give us a better idea of how the invasion is going and whether they are surviving our winters.
How do you know a Cuban Treefrog from our native species. Here are a couple of articles on how to do this.
If you choose to euthanize them, how do you do this humanely?
You can catch them using 3-foot sections of PVC pipe about 1.25” in diameter. These are placed vertically in the ground along the outside wall of a building near an exterior light source (where bugs are attracted). In the morning, check the inside of the pipes. If treefrogs are present, try to identify them. Cuban Treefrogs are the only ones in the panhandle that reach lengths of 4-6 inches. If they are all small, you will need to collect them and identify them using one of the publications listed above.
If you positively identify one, the first step is to confirm it. You can do this by contacting your county extension office. Second, report it to EDDMapS (www.EDDMapS.org). If confirmed, and you choose to euthanize it, the following link will explain how to do this humanely.
This situation is similar to the lionfish invasion we experienced 10 years ago. We know they are here, and we know they can be a serious problem. We are not sure we can eradicate them, but they should be managed. We will see how this goes.
In the invasive species world, we talk of “Early Detection Rapid Response” (EDRR). These are invasive species that are currently not in our area, or are in very low numbers, but pose a potential threat. One of these is the Cuban treefrog.
As the name implies, Cuban treefrogs are from Cuba, and arrived in Florida around 1920 mostly likely in cargo ships. With the tropical climate of south Florida, the frogs did well and began to multiple and disperse north. At the beginning of 2022 there were 1,953 records of Cuban treefrogs in the U.S. Currently there are 2,462. There were few records in the Florida panhandle, now there 45 records from 11 of the 16 panhandle counties. They are spreading.
In the past many of the invasive species that invade south Florida could not tolerate our winters. That is changing, and we are seeing more here than we have in the past. We have had one off records of Cuban treefrogs from our area over the years but recently there were reports of possible breeding pairs in Panama City, reports from the Crestview area, the Pensacola area, and several from the Milton-Pace area. Just recently they were found at one of the county buildings in Escambia County, in downtown Pensacola, and now near Gulf Breeze. Again… they are coming.
How would you know one when you see it?
First, they are treefrogs. Treefrogs differ in have toe pads at the end of each toe. Second, the adult Cuban treefrogs are much larger than the natives. Most of our native treefrogs are no more than two inches in length. Cuban treefrogs can reach six inches. The juveniles can be distinguished by looking at their belly. The skeleton appears blue through the skin. The skin between the eyes is fused to the skull (will not slide if rubbed with your thumb), and their eyes are reddish in color.
What do I do if I see one?
First, report it to the national database EDDMapS (www.EDDMapS.org). Second, if you are willing, humanely euthanize it. The most humane way to do this is to numb the nervous system first. This can be done by rubbing oral gel in the stomach or cooling them in a cooler with ice. Then they can be frozen.
Why are they a problem?
By definition invasive species DO cause problems. In this case Cuban treefrogs they are known to consume native frogs, wiping them out of many areas in the state. Like most invasive species, they reproduce at high rates and have few predators. One story came from a USGS biologist in Louisiana. He received a call from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans stating they had ordered palm trees from a south Florida nursery for one of their exhibits. After a couple of days, the caretakers noticed numerous frogs they had not seen before. The biologist had an idea of what they might be and drove over. When he arrived, he decided to check the electric panel by the male restroom – Cuban treefrogs are known to reside here and sometimes short circuit systems. He opened the panel to find 30 Cuban treefrogs inside. Game on. New Orleans now has Cuban treefrogs.
By the way, this is a common method of dispersal – hitchhiking on plants from south Florida to nurseries and stores in our neck of the woods. Our winters are milder than they once were, and they seem to be overwintering and breeding. So, game on for us here in the panhandle as well.
If you think you may have a Cuban treefrog contact your county extension office to verify identification before you try to remove them. We certainly do not want harmless native species to get caught up in this management effort. If you have any questions, contact your county extension office.
The University of Florida/IFAS Extension faculty are reintroducing their acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” series. Conservation lands and aquatic systems have vulnerabilities and face future threats to their ecological integrity. Come learn about the important role of these ecosystems.
The St. Joseph Bay and Buffer Preserve Ecosystems are home to some of the one richest concentrations of flora and fauna along the Northern Gulf Coast. This area supports an amazing diversity of fish, aquatic invertebrates, turtles, salt marshes and pine flatwoods uplands.
This one-day educational adventure is based at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve near the coastal town of Port. St. Joe, Florida. It includes field tours of the unique coastal uplands and shoreline as well as presentations by area Extension Agents.
Registration fee is $45.
Meals: breakfast, lunch, drinks & snacks provided (you may bring your own)
Attire: outdoor wear, water shoes, bug spray and sun screen
*if afternoon rain is in forecast, outdoor activities may be switched to the morning schedule
Space is limited! Register now! See below.
All Times Eastern
8:00 – 8:30 am Welcome! Breakfast & Overview with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension
8:30 – 9:35 am Diamondback Terrapin Ecology, with Rick O’Connor, Escambia County Extension
9:35 – 9:45 am Q&A
9:45- 10:20 am The Bay Scallop & Habitat, with Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension
10:20 – 10:30 am Q&A
10:30 – 10:45 am Break
10:45 – 11:20 am The Hard Structures: Artificial Reefs & Marine Debris, with Scott Jackson, Bay County Extension
11:20 – 11:30 am Q&A
11:30 – 12:05 am The Apalachicola Oyster, Then, Now and What’s Next, with Erik Lovestrand, Franklin County Extension
12:05 – 12:15 pm Q&A
12:15 – 1:00 pm Lunch
1:00 – 2:30 pm Tram Tour of the Buffer Preserve (St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Staff)
2:30 – 2:40 pm Break
2:40 – 3:20 pm A Walk Among the Black Mangroves (All Extension Agents)
3:20 – 3:30 pm Wrap Up
To attend, you must register for the event at this site:
Many of our local creatures lead fascinating lives that are rarely observed by the casual nature-seeker. However, thanks to those seriously committed naturalists, who may seriously need to be committed, we get the opportunity to peek into the secret lives of newts for some wild revelations. By the way, I do consider myself a naturalist and on occasion will come close to the edge of “crazy” in my nature adventures. Nevertheless, I do not believe I would actually qualify as “committable” because I have never totally lost that innate capacity to be freakishly startled when a treefrog jumps on the back of my neck in the dark. If you ever get past the point of being startled by things like that when on a nighttime herp hunting venture, you should probably speak with a professional.
Several months ago, I once again decided to test my measure of “committability” on a late night visit to the sinkhole pond behind my house. I was hoping to see what kinds of local amphibians might be active because I could hear several different frog species sounding off. As I waded in with my headlamp for a light source, I soon discovered that frogs are pretty darn good at not getting caught at night (imagine that). I had a dip net but never got close enough without scaring the quarry under. However, when I made a few scoops across the bottom in the shallows I was excited to see something wriggling among the leafy debris in the net.
These two “eft-phase” eastern newts were rescued from the authors pool skimmer
Upon returning to the house, it didn’t take long to identify the three-inch long specimen as an eastern newt. As I later read more in depth about this species, I learned that newts are in the family called Salamandridae and typically (not always) have three distinct life phases where they go back and forth between the land and water. After the eggs hatch, larval newts are fully aquatic, with a pair of feathery external gills protruding behind their head. As they mature, they metamorphose into a bright orange/red color and no longer have external gills. They then leave the water for a terrestrial phase where they are called “efts.” Efts may wander the forest floor for many years and travel long distances before once again returning to the water as an adult to breed. Back in the aquatic environment, they morph into a different looking creature yet again. The external gills do not return but the skin color goes from brightly colored to a greenish-yellow and the tail develops a flattened ridge that aids in swimming. All phases have tiny, bright red dots on the body that are circled by black rings, hence their other name, the red-spotted newt. The skin of the eastern newt is also toxic and scientists refer to the bright coloration of the eft as “aposematic” or warning coloration. Their toxicity allows this species to co-exist with fish, unlike some other salamanders that would become tasty snacks and not likely survive to adulthood. The eastern newt is widespread throughout eastern North America and has been intensely studied for its amazing ability to regenerate lost body parts. Not just limbs but even organ tissues!
So the next time you want to test whether or not you might qualify as a hardcore naturalist (i.e. certifiably nuts), take a nighttime trek into a dark, watery, scary place alone. Pay close attention to your reaction when something moves under your foot on the squishy bottom. I would wager that most of you would fall somewhere just shy of being a true hardcore naturalist. I would even put money on it. Have fun!