Photographer: Joseph Scopino Source: Bugwood.org
The non-native Cuban treefrog is the largest treefrog in the United States. Most adults are typically 1-4 inches long, but females may grow to 6 inches or more. The skin is warty like a toad but, unlike toads, they have adhesive toepads. The skin on the head of Cuban treefrogs is fused to the skull—if rubbed with a finger (wear gloves or wash hands afterwards), the skin between the eyes will not move; this is a key distinguishing characteristic. Compared to native treefrogs, the toepads of Cuban treefrogs are much larger and are much wider than the toes. Color is highly variable, ranging from gray to gray-green or tan-brown or even cream-colored or yellow, and individuals are able to change color rapidly. The body is usually heavily blotched (but can be nearly solid-colored), there is a yellow wash in the groin area, and there are often stripe-like blotches on the hind legs. Small, juvenile Cuban Treefrogs typically have greenish bodies with light side stripes, red eyes, and blue bones that are visible through the skin on the underside of the legs.
Cuban treefrogs secrete a sticky substance that can irritate the skin and mucus membranes of humans and pets, causing a burning and itching sensation that can last for an hour or more. Wear gloves if possible or wash your hands after handling one and take especial care to avoid rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands.
Cuban treefrogs have a distinctive, rasping “Mraaaaak!” breeding call. Want to hear its call? Click here
Studies have shown that Cuban treefrogs replace green and squirrel frogs in residential areas in Florida. They not only compete with tadpoles and adults of native species but also prey on native treefrog species. They have also been known to eat small lizards and snakes. They also have been observed to impact species of small birds in nest boxes by invading nest boxes and frightening them away. Cuban treefrogs’ irritating skin secretions can also impact humans and pets and they are known to cause economic impacts by causing short-circuits in transformer boxes and power outages.
Cuban treefrogs breed during warmer Months—in Florida, from May to October—and breeding is often stimulated by warm summer rains. Breeding events usually last one night. Eggs are deposited as a thin floating sheet in any available still waters that lack predatory fish. Tadpoles hatch two days later and metamorphose into froglets in approximately 3 to 8 weeks, although this process can occur more quickly during drying conditions. Males may only live two months, whereas females may survive more than two years.
Cuban treefrogs were found in Key West, Florida in 1928. It is believed that they arrived on shipping crates from the Caribbean. By the mid-1950s, they had spread through the Florida Keys and had also been found on the mainland and by the mid-1970s they had spread throughout most of southern Florida. Cuban treefrogs have since spread throughout the peninsula of Florida, likely largely due to their tendency to hitchhike in ornamental plants and on vehicles, although this species is also found in the pet trade and releases may have also facilitated spread. There have also been an increasing number of reports in the Florida panhandle.
In 2016, Cuban Treefrogs were 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.
In 2018, this species was documented near a YMCA in The Woodlands, TX which is a large suburb north of Houston. There may have been earlier reports (circa 2008-2009) from the Houston area near ornamental plant nurseries, indicating the ornamental plant trade may be an important pathway for introductions in Texas, but documentation is not available to confirm these. There is also a credible iNaturalist report from a plant nursery in the Brownsville area.
Cuban Treefrogs have also been documented in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina and established populations have been found in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Cuba, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands
U.S. Habitat: Natural and man-made habitats. In Florida, they can be found in natural habitats ranging from swamps to 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 populations in FL, LA, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Documented in AL, MS, SC and TX.
USGS distributional map here
Two native Texas species are easily mistaken for the Cuban Treefrog. The Mexican Treefrog (Smilisca baudinii) found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is similar in appearance but grows to only approximately 2.75 inches in length, has smaller toepads, the skin on the head is not fused to the skull, and it has a light spot under the eye and dark stripe from the tympanum (external eardrum) to the shoulder. The Gray Treefrog (Dryophytes versicolor) is found from central Texas eastward and is also similar in appearance but grows to only 2 inches in length, has smaller toepads, the skin
Because this is a cryptic species that breeds prolifically, management of this frog in Florida or Georgia is not likely to be possible. However, Cuban treefrogs are also found in the pet trade and additional introductions can be prevented by never releasing pets—especially exotic species that can wreak havoc on native wildlife. If you see a Cuban tree frog please take photographs (show toepads if possible) and collect it if possible and 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.