Photographer: Joseph Scopino Source: Bugwood.org
The Cuban treefrog is the largest tree frog in the United States. The back is warty like a toad but have very large eyes. Color varies from gray to gray-green or tan-brown or even cream-colored, and individuals are able to change color rapidly. The body is usually heavily mottled and there are often strips on the hind legs. Most adults from Florida are 1-4 inches long even though females may grow to 6 inches or more.
Cuban treefrogs secrete a sticky substance that can irritate the skin and mucus membranes of people. The burning and itching sensation that last for an hour or more. Wash your hands after handling one.
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Being the largest treefrog in the United States makes it able to out-compete native treefrog species. Studies have shown these frogs to replace green and squirrel frogs in residential areas. They not only replace the native species, the Cuban treefrogs eat the native frog species. They also have been observed to impact species of small birds because they invade the bird’s nest boxes and frighten them away. They have even been known to eat small lizards and snakes. Also, since they have the skin secretions that irritate human skin.
Breeding season in Florida is from May to October and usually stimulated by warm summer rains. Breeding events usually last one night. Eggs are deposited as a thin floating sheet in warm quiet waters of just about any size that lack predatory fish. Tadpoles hatch two days later and become frog-lets 3 to 8 weeks later. Mature males may only live two months, whereas mature females may survive more than two years.
Cuban treefrogs were found in Key West, Florida in 1928. Most likely they arrived on shipping crated from the Caribbean. By the mid-1950a, they had spread through the Florida Keys. The first specimen caught on mainland Florida was in 1951. It is expected that they will continue to spread along the Gulf coast and down south into Mexico. The spread of the Cuban treefrog has also been facilitated by the pet trade.
In 2016, the invasive species was found in the Elephant Exhibit at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans after in the importation of palm trees from Florida. Surveys in the following year caught over 350 Cuban treefrogs in the Audubon Riverview area, showing this species is well established. Established populations have been found in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, but Louisiana is only the second state to now have this invasive species.
In 2018, it was confirmed near a YMCA in The Woodlands, TX which is a large suburb north of Houston.
Cuba, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands
U.S. Habitat: Natural and man-made habitats. In Florida, they can be found in swamps as well as pine forests. In residential areas, they are most frequently seen near ornamental ponds and outside lighting fixtures where they wait to catch insects.
U.S. Present: Established population in FL, LA, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.
Since this tree frog is popular within the pet community, management of this frog in Florida or Georgia is nearly impossible. What can be done on a personal level is to not ever buy any exotic animals and “release them into the wild”. As you can see with this treefrog and other animals (like the pythons in Florida); releasing them only wreaks havoc on the native animals. So be sure you can handle and animal for about 10 years at least because animals live much longer in captivity. If you see a Cuban tree frog please collect it if possible, report it to the USGS and to TISI. Information on how to collect a Cuban treefrog can be found here.
Forys, E. A., & Allen, C. R. 1999. Biological invasions and deletions: community change in south Florida. Biological Conservation, 87(3):341-347.
Glorioso, B.M., Waddle, J.H., Muse, L.J., Jennings, N.D., LItton, M., Hamilton, J., Gergen, S., Heckard, D. 2018. Establishment of the exotic invasive Cuban treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) in Louisiana. Biological Invasions. Published online: April 21, 2018.
McGarrity, M. E., & Johnson, S. A. 2009. Geographic trend in sexual size dimorphism and body size of Osteopilus septentrionalis (Cuban treefrog): implications for invasion of the southeastern United States. Biological Invasions, 11(6):1411-1420.
Salinas, F. V. 2006. Breeding behavior and colonization success of the Cuban treefrog Osteopilus septentrionalis. Journal Information, 62(4).
Smith, K. G. 2005. Effects of nonindigenous tadpoles on native tadpoles in Florida: evidence of competition. Biological Conservation, 123(4):433-441.
Wyatt, J. L., & Forys, E. A. 2004. Conservation implications of predation by Cuban treefrogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) on native hylids in Florida. Southeaster
Woodward, S. L., and Quinn, J. A. 2011. Cuban Treefrog. Encyclopedia of Invasive Species: From Africanized Honey Bees to Zebra Mussels. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 211-13. Print.