Officials in Temple Terrace, Fla., are cautioning residents that heavy rains have brought out the toxic, invasive Bufo marinus toad, a huge amphibian that secretes a toxin powerful enough to kill unsuspecting dogs, cats and other animals.
Deborah and Charlie Barrett wish they'd heard about the danger sooner.
The Barretts' 6-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Willie, died last week after biting a Bufo toad he found in the yard, WFLA reports. Death came within minutes, with Willie going into convulsions and dying as the couple scrambled to drive him to the hospital.
Small pets like Willie are the most at risk, according to Dr. Paul Langston of the Temple Terrace Animal and Bird Hospital. However, Langston also said larger pets can also suffer severe effects.
"If [pets] get exposed to it, the chemical actually goes across the mucus membranes or in their mouth and they paw their mouths – it can get into their system very rapidly and cause seizures, coma or death," Langston said, according to Fox 13 News.
Originally brought to Florida to manage insect populations in sugar cane fields decades ago, the species quickly took over, preying on native toads and killing dogs, according to an archived Time story from 1968. The species breeds year-round in standing water found in ditches, shallow pools and canals, according to the Southeast Ecological Science Center.
The toads have been known to congregate around houses at night and feed on insects attracted to porch lighting, the government site notes. They've also been known to eat dog food, so pet owners should pay special attention when letting dogs and cats out in the evenings.
Pets that do come in contact with the toads should have their mouths and paws rinsed with water and then brought to a vet, according to WFLA. The toxin contained in the toad's glands can also irritate human skin, however, and if discovered, Bofu toads should be handled with great care (and gloves).
Dr. Ken Jukoff of Connechusett Animal Hospital in Florida said the most humane way to kill a Bufo toad is to place it in a plastic bag, and then put it in the freezer for three days, Patch.com reports.
The Bofu toad infestation is just one more example of what can happen when a transplanted plant or animal runs amok, to the detriment of the native environment.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, invasive species like the Bofu toad (also known as cane toad) are one of the leading threats to native wildlife. About 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk primarily due to invasive species. Other examples of particularly harmful invasive species include the Asian carp and zebra mussels.