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There’s an invasive Cuban tree frog in your house. Here’s what to do next.

There’s an invasive Cuban tree frog in your house. Here’s what to do next.

Cuban tree frogs can hide in your toilet, in your gutters, and in cracks in your yard.

On warm nights, they hang on walls and windows near lighted areas and wait for insects to eat. They have adapted to living among humans – and they are known to attack people when they enter or leave their homes at night.

The non-native frogs can lay up to 1,000 eggs during the spring and summer months, especially after heavy rains. They remain tadpoles for only a few weeks before turning into frogs and preying on native wildlife. They are less active during drier months.

A Florida state law prohibits the release of invasive species into the wild, even if one of them finds its way into your home.

Related: Why was a giant lizard roaming through a Tampa Bay neighborhood?

“Releasing the frogs is not only illegal, but also irresponsible because of the impact it has on native wildlife,” says Steve Johnson, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida.

One solution: euthanasia.

Yes, you can hit a Cuban tree frog on the head with a hammer. Any targeted and rapid blunt force trauma that results in instant death is considered humane.

However, Johnson does not support this method of controlling the population.

The easiest way to kill these amphibians is to catch a frog in a plastic bag, tie it tightly, and place it in the refrigerator for a few hours and then in the freezer overnight. The cool air acts as a natural anesthetic and the frog dies a painless death, according to Johnson. Throw the bag away the next morning.

A Cuban tree frog sticks its head out of a fountain in Kelly Cockerham's Tampa yard.
A Cuban tree frog sticks its head out of a fountain in Kelly Cockerham’s Tampa yard. “I saw him and I was like, ‘Dude, you can stay. You’re so cute,'” Cockerham said. (Courtesy of Kelly Cockerham)

However, many Floridians find it difficult to kill a seemingly harmless, large-eyed frog. Additionally, the frogs secrete a slimy film that can irritate some people’s skin and eyes. And it’s not like the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has “Cuban tree frog cops” to enforce the law, Johnson said.

“Some people say, ‘I don’t have the heart to do it. Can you come pick them up?'” Johnson said. “‘No.’ I would spend all my time taking frogs away from people.”

Cuban tree frogs are considered responsible for the decline of native species such as the southern toad and the green and squirrel tree frogs. They feed on lizards and snails and compete with other tree frogs for habitat and food, according to the wildlife commission.

“Every frog has beautiful eyes, so they have that good quality,” Johnson said. “But the fact that they’re eating our native tree frogs … I’m an advocate for native species.”

There is another school of thought: leave the frogs alone.

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“Throughout their range in South Florida, they can be found in virtually any neighborhood, potentially in any yard,” said Sean Doody, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of South Florida.

It’s like swatting a mosquito and thinking you’re reducing the mosquito population, Doody said.

He admits his opinion is unpopular, but he sees the invasive brown anoles scurrying around Florida: “There’s nothing we can do,” Doody said.

Cuban tree frogs have spread rapidly from Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean to Florida over the past century. The first specimens most likely traveled on shipping crates in the 1920s, and by the 1970s they inhabited most of southern Florida, according to Johnson.

The geographic distribution of Cuban tree frogs in Florida in January 2023 is shown in green.
The geographic distribution of Cuban tree frogs in Florida in January 2023 is shown in green. (Courtesy of the University of Florida)

Adult Cuban tree frogs are difficult to identify and can be confused with native species such as the Barking Tree Frog and Cope’s Gray Tree Frog. Their warty skin often ranges from creamy white to light brown, but they can also be green, yellow, dark brown or a combination of those three colors. Some have patterns on their backs, while others remain a uniform shade, according to the Wildlife Commission.

The easiest way to identify a Cuban tree frog is its toe pads, which are larger than those of native tree frogs, the Wildlife Commission said. And they have “Bubble eyes,” Johnson said. Also, any tree frog in Florida that grows longer than 3 inches is almost certainly a Cuban tree frog, which can grow up to 6 inches.

They have natural predators: Several species of snakes in Florida eat them, including black racers, pygmy rattlesnakes and garter snakes. Owls, crows and waders have also been observed feeding on the frogs, Johnson said.

A Cuban tree frog sits on a pot in Kelly Cockerham's Tampa garden. The warty skin of this species is often creamy white to light brown, but can also be green, yellow, dark brown or a combination of these three colors.
A Cuban tree frog sits on a pot in Kelly Cockerham’s Tampa garden. The warty skin of this species is often creamy white to light brown, but can also be green, yellow, dark brown or a combination of these three colors. (Courtesy of Kelly Cockerham)

Kelly Cockerham, a nonprofit grant applicant from Riverside Heights in Tampa, has at least two Cuban tree frogs in her yard. One lives behind a flowerpot on the side of her shed, the other in the lemongrass next to her fountain.

“Personally, I don’t like frogs that much. They scare me,” Cockerham said. “But I thought, this is the cutest frog I’ve ever seen.”

Cockerham has stocked her garden with native plants to attract monarch butterflies, and she gets advice from Little Red Wagon Native Nursery about which plants grow best. When she learned that Cuban tree frogs are invasive, she was torn.

The species has found its niche among humans, Doody said, and it can reproduce in lily ponds, birdbaths and children’s pools.

“I just created a wonderful environment for her,” Cockerham said with a laugh; she has two fountains and “lots of pots back there.”

The frog near the blue fountain keeps them awake at night with its loud call, a nuisance that, according to Johnson, reaches its peak in the hours before dawn.

But a few days ago, Cockerham’s son saw a black snail snake emerge from the lemon grass. Since then, she has not heard the frog’s croaking again.