Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The tiny island of Cedar Key, Florida has been invaded by Cubans, not by the good people of Cuba, but by their frogs.

Earlier this year, mysterious tadpoles showed up in an open rain barrel near our Cedar Key School Aquaponics System. I noticed a raft of frog eggs one Spring day when I stopped to feed the gambusia minnows that live in the barrel for mosquito control.
I assumed they were tree frog tadpoles since to lay eggs in the 50 gallon barrel they would have to climb up the side just to get to the water.
I wasn't thinking Cuban Tree Frogs though.

However, when these large and unusual tadpoles showed up, I became suspicious. Every native tree frog tadpole I've ever seen has been tiny and dark. These were so radically different, that I had the students catch them. We then placed them in a tank with an always hungry bluegill who dispatched them post haste.

Last year's Environmental Science class, which is this year's Biology class, put out tree frog monitoring "traps" last year after an adult Cuban tree frog turned up in our aquaponics system.

We've monitored these sporadically, but have only caught a few natives.

So, it figures that with about 10 PVC tree frog monitoring traps spread around school, the second adult Cuban tree frog turned up in a flower pot in the aquaponic system.

We were down at the lab and I had groups of kids doing various aquaculture related jobs. This always looks a little like controlled chaos, as multiple groups need me for this or that and there's a lot of "Mr. P, what about ..." and "Mr. P, where is...", anyway, you get the picture, it's busy.

Still, some sounds cut through the cacophony and a squeal is one of those sounds. From the group planting lettuce outside in the aquaponics system, there was a squeal and I heard the word "frog".
So, of course I went to investigate, already suspecting what I would find.

Sure enough, the kids had found a Cuban tree frog in a stack of 3 inch black plastic flower pots. It was a little cold shocked on that chilly morning and pretty easy to capture.
I explained what he was and why we could not let him go.
When I got to the part about euthanizing him, there were some "Ohhh, ahhhh poor thing", but the lessons on invasive species must have sunk in, because they seemed to understand.
Actually I'm glad they have compassion for the individual frog, while at the same time realizing the need to control invasives like the Cuban tree frog.

That's where I am too.
I love frogs, love their sounds, their big eyes, their palette of colors and sizes.
But this frog had to die and the most humane way for that to happen was a trip to the freezer in a Ziploc bag.

Besides the size and tan color, another characteristic that makes the Cuban different from our natives is the size of the sticky toe pads.
They're huge!
Every time I see them my brain flips back to the 1953 "War of The Worlds" movie.

The "hand" of a dead Martian invader from the 1953 movie ... see what I mean?

Are these really from Cuba, or are they from Olympus Mons?
One wonders ...

To help YOU identify the Cuban, here's a size reference photo.
They are big for tree frogs and mostly tan ... not a common color with our natives.

A dorsal view.
And finally, an extended view.
There is some yellow around the thigh and groin area.

Keep an eye out for these invaders and if you catch one, be strong and euthanize it.

You can get much more information and even send in photos for an official identification BEFORE YOU KILL A TREE FROG at this excellent University of Florida website.

...and keep watching the skies.


Pablo said...

Well, a couple of '50s scifi movie references in this post.

Interesting subject too. Is there any realistic hope of controlling this particular invastion?

Elaine W. said...

Oh poop! We are inundated with Cuban tree frogs here on the Space Coast. My facebook page shows the capture and "cold sleep" disposal of the one Ifound in my toilet.

threecollie said...

It is awesome how you are teaching both compassion and necessity, right along with the science and ecology. I am glad your lessons reach this wider forum too. Thanks.

Julie Zickefoose said...

You couldn't set any stronger example of environmental responsibility and stewardship than humanely euthanizing such an appealing creature. And, herp-lover that you are, showing that you hate to do it, and at the same time giving your students the bigger picture as to why you feel you must.
I remember being ambushed into admitting that I send house sparrows to Sparrow Heaven when I find them nesting in bluebird boxes (and killing native birds). This, in an interview on NPR. And getting emailed death threats from someone named "Dharma" for taking this stance. Those are some upside-down priorities.

Way to model right-side up, FC.

Heather said...

I'm glad you posted this, or else I might not have ever learned that they're apparently found occasionally in my area -coastal South Carolina. I'll be looking my tree frogs over more carefully now.

Kort said...

Will keep an eye out. I believe I've seen a number of them here in S. FL.

Wally Jones said...

Good post on how to deal with these invaders. Thank you for teaching your charges both sides of the issue and the consequences of inaction.

Miz S said...

Ah, it's rough to have to send a frog to froggy heaven, but I get it. I definitely get it. Very informative post.

rick said...

They are here in St Augustine . I cant keep them out of my hot tub. I don't like to kill them for no reason but they soil my hot tub keeping us out. So I massacre them when I find them.