Cane toads, canines
If your dog has ever returned from the yard drooling profusely and shaking its head, it most likely had an encounter with a toad.
The toxins released by some toads as a defense mechanism irritate a dog's mouth and leave a bad taste behind, but usually nothing worse. However, one species can cause a lot more damage - even death.
But don't worry. They haven't made their way from southern Florida up to coastal Georgia.
Not yet, at any rate.
Bufo marinus are better known as cane, giant or marine toads (some also call them bufo toads, which is redundant since bufo is the genus, meaning toad in Latin.)
One way to identify a cane toad is by its size - these suckers are big. Average cane toads weigh about 3 pounds and are 4-6 inches long.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists a male cane toad as the largest toad ever recorded.
Prinsen ("the prince"), which was kept as a pet in Sweden, weighed 5 pounds, 13 Â½ ounces and was 15 inches long.
Usually females are larger, but the closest recorded female (named Totally Awesome and kept at a zoo in Des Moines, Iowa) weighed in at 5 pounds, 1 Â½ ounces and was 9 Â½ inches long.
"Toads are actually very great animals," said John Christensen of Critter Control of Savannah.
He described a toad living on his porch that "pigs out on bugs."
"That's what's so good about them," he said. "To have them in your yard is actually a good thing."
Cane toads are native to Central and South America, but were introduced into many other countries for the purpose of pest control.
This invasive species has all but taken over a large part of coastal Australia, and are also now found in the Caribbean, the Phillippines, Fiji and New Guinea, as well as Texas, Hawaii and Florida.
"As far as being a problem here, not really," he said of cane toads, though he added that invasive creatures prevalent in Florida, such as certain snakes, have been known to move up into coastal Georgia.
Christensen said his company doesn't get calls for toad removal. Most are more along the lines of people "freaking out over snakes."
But he did recall a man asking for help finding a toad he lost - the one he used for its psychedelic effects.
(Editor's note: Please, don't try this! The only "trip" you're likely to get from licking a toad is one to the emergency room, for treatment of salmonella poisoning or worse.)
Fortunately, no Savannah veterinarians contacted for this story said they'd had to treat dogs for toad poisoning, although it does occur fairly often in Florida, where cane toads are prevalent.
But besides the harm they can cause pets that get too close, there is a good side to those secretions from our bumpy-skinned friends.
They have the potential to actually save lives.
A research article by A.D. Garg, R. Hippargi and A.N. Ganhare in the Internet Journal of Pharmacology concludes: "Toad skin-secretions are a potent source of drugs. It's probably the only such source in nature from where we can get nearly six types of drugs possessing analgesic, painkiller, antibiotic, anti-viral and anti-cancerous properties, as well as possessing potential of treating cardiovascular diseases."
So toads are great for insect control and possible medical research, but try to keep your pups away from them during that Florida vacation.
They have even proved addictive - for more on that, go to npr.org and search for "The dog who loved to suck on toads." Seriously, her name is Lady and she has a problem.
KNOW YOUR TOADS
The southern toad (Bufo terrestris) is sometimes mistaken for the cane toad. How to tell them apart:
â€¢ The cane toad has large paratoid gland that is angled downward over its shoulder. The southern toad has smaller, kidney-shaped glands. Both secrete a substance that is irritating to mucous membranes, but the southern toad is not toxic.
â€¢ The southern toad has two ridges on its head that end in knobs, while the cane toad does not.
â€¢ Adult southern toads are 1 Â¾ to 4 Â½ inches in length, while cane toads are 4-6 inches.
Source: Florida Wildlife Extension