Cuban Treefrog - Osteopilus septentrionalis

Cuban Treefrog

*The colored areas of the map above represent parishes with currently known records for the given species
 (Source: Jeff Boundy, LA Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries). By no means does it represent the full range of the species in the state, nor does it necessarily mean that a species can be found throughout the parish with the record. This is provided as a guide to where you might be able to find these species in the state and to aid in identification. A descriptive explanation of the range of each species can be found in the text below.

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Other Common Names: Giant Tree-frog

Subspecies: No subspecies recognized.

Description:  Cuban Treefrogs are the largest treefrogs in North America. Typical adult males and females range in size from 1.5 – 3.5 inches and 2 – 5 inches, respectively. They are highly variable in ground coloration, ranging from pale gray or white, to olive, tan, bronze or brown. Though some individuals may be fairly unpatterned, others may exhibit bold stripes, mottling, or lichen-like patterning. Many have stripes present on the rear legs. Cuban Treefrogs have the ability to change colors rapidly. Adult skin is typically rough and warty. The belly is light-colored and granular in texture. Cuban Treefrogs possess very large toepads that may be as large as their tympanum. They do not have any webbing between the toes on the front legs, but have slightly-webbed rear toes. The hidden surfaces of the legs of many individuals have a yellowish wash. A distinct tarsal fold occurs along the ankle. Cuban Treefrogs, like other members in the genus Osteopilus, have a bony co-ossification of the skull resulting in the skin on the head being immovable from the skull. Cuban Treefrogs possess very large eyes. A skin-fold extends from the eye backwards to the tympanum. During the breeding season males can be differentiated from females by the presence of loose skin on the throat from calling activity. The vocal sacs of Cuban Treefrogs inflate bilaterally, giving the appearance of two sacs. In addition, males will develop black nuptial pads on their thumbs, which helps them hold on to females during mating.

Cuban Treefrog tadpoles are round in shape, with laterally set eyes. Small tadpoles are uniformly light tan to brown. Larger tadpoles have a darker dorsum, with a bicolored tail muscle and wide, mostly translucent tail fin scattered with dark flecks. Often the tail is pigmented with lighter areas near where the tail meets the body. The intestinal coil is visible ventrally. Tadpoles may reach a total length of about 1.5 inches before metamorphosis. Newly metamorphosed Cuban Treefrogs are about ½ inch long. Juvenile Cuban Treefrogs typically lack warts and exhibit much less patterning than adults. They are typically pale green to light tan in coloration with a broad dorsolateral cream to yellow stripe. Juveniles often have red eyes, and blue-colored bones may be apparent when viewed through the skin on the hidden portion of the hind limbs.

Similar Species:  In Louisiana, adult Cuban Treefrogs may be differentiated from our adult native treefrogs by several characters. Cuban Treefrogs possess much larger toepads and eyes (relative to total size) than all of our native treefrogs. The Cuban Treefrog attains a much larger size than our native treefrogs. Therefore, if you observe a treefrog 3 inches or more in length, you likely have a Cuban Treefrog. The fused skin on the skull of Cuban Treefrogs is a trait not shared with any of our native species. Distinguishing very young frogs may be challenging, but look for the suite of characters mentioned above for juvenile Cuban Treefrogs for help in identification.

Species Range: The native range of the Cuban Treefrog is Cuba, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas. The species has been introduced in many areas including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Florida Keys and mainland Florida, Antigua, Anguilla, Dominica, Nevis, St. Martin, Guadeloupe, Curacao, St. Barthelemy, Bonaire, and Costa Rica. Occasional waifs, usually transported through horticultural shipments, have been reported from other areas in the United States and elsewhere.

Louisiana Range: There are a few published records from the greater New Orleans area, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette. They are now established in the Audubon Zoo area but no other established populations are confirmed elsewhere in the state.

Habitat: Cuban Treefrogs are quite the generalists in their habitat requirements, which contribute to their success as an invasive species. In peninsular Florida, Cuban Treefrogs are especially at home in urban and suburban environments. However, they have invaded nearly all types of natural and semi-natural habitats as well, including coastal areas. In these areas, forested habitats seem to be preferred. In Louisiana, they are beginning to pop up in areas of metropolitan New Orleans, but with human-aided dispersal, they may show up just about anywhere in the state.

Natural History:  Cuban Treefrogs, like most treefrogs, are excellent climbers, and are active primarily at night, especially on relatively warm, rainy or humid nights. During the day and in colder weather, they stay hidden by taking refuge in tight spaces in both natural and man-made objects. They can withstand desiccation better than many terrestrial and aquatic species, which also aides in their vagility. Juvenile and adult Cuban Treefrogs are indiscriminate feeders, taking any moving prey that it can fit into its mouth. Whereas the majority of food items are invertebrates, adult Cuban Treefrogs are known to eat other frogs, including native species and smaller individuals of its own kind. Lizards and snakes have also been reported. Tadpoles feed at night and on overcast days upon algae and other organic matter in open water. Reptiles and birds are known predators of Cuban Treefrog tadpoles, juveniles and adults. Adults will put up a fight against an attack by kicking, emitting its release ‘scream-like’ call, and secreting a noxious substance.

Cuban Treefrogs typically breed during warmer weather from March to October in peninsular Florida, though they are capable of breeding at any time. They will use just about any standing water body, from a nice natural situation to a neglected swimming pool or water-filled flowerpot, as a breeding location. Cuban Treefrogs have been shown to tolerate higher salinity levels than our native frogs, up to 12 ppt. Once females arrive at the site where males are calling, males will frantically search for a willing female to mate. The male grasps the female behind her forelimbs and will fertilize the eggs as they are deposited in the water. Eggs are laid in a large surface film that may total up to 1,000 eggs, but typically comprises 200-300 eggs. The total complement of a single female is reported to be approximately 1,000 - 16,000 eggs, and is positively correlated with female size. Eggs hatch in less than 2 days and tadpoles metamorphose in about 1 month, but metamorphosis may be delayed in cooler weather. Reproductive maturity occurs 7 - 9 months after transformation. Adult Cuban Treefrogs are long-lived in captivity, with a lifespan of 5-10 years. However, wild populations undoubtedly experience much shorter lifespans, perhaps less than one year for males, and only two years for females.

Exotic Invasive Impacts:

Ecologic Harm – Cuban Treefrogs would negatively affect our native treefrog populations through competition for food and shelter. Cuban Treefrog tadpoles have been shown to be superior competitors compared to tadpoles of native species. Cuban Treefrogs are also known direct predators of smaller, native frogs, including Green Treefrogs, Squirrel Treefrogs, and Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toads. Evidence from Florida suggests they may totally displace native treefrogs in residential areas.

Economic Harm – Cuban Treefrogs have been known cause short-circuits to electric boxes and transformers when using these places for shelter. They have been known to cause power outages when short-circuiting disconnect switches. They routinely use water pump housings, air conditioning compressor units, and other confined places as shelter. Over time, this could lead to potential damage.

Human Impacts – Cuban Treefrogs can be a nuisance to homeowners. They tend to congregate around light sources where their prey is plentiful, which, many times, may be near doors to the residence. They are apt jump off their perch on to you or otherwise make entry into the home, sometimes through vent pipes in the roof. They will usually end up in the bathroom, where they can be quite a surprise for an unsuspecting visitor, and they have even been known to clog drains. After a good rainy night, many egg masses may be found in small decorative ponds or even swimming pools. Cuban Treefrogs are also known to use nest boxes set up for birds as shelter, which may dissuade their use by birds. As previously stated, their skin secretions can be very irritating, especially to those with asthma or allergies. Though no serious injuries are known, there have been reports of ingestion of Cuban Treefrogs by pets, which have resulted in excessive salivation and even seizures.

Call:  The advertisement call of the male Cuban Treefrog is described as a rasping snarl or rubbery snore at varied pitch lasting about 1/3 of a second, repeated in series. It is often likened to the sound of a squeaky door. Though most calling activity occurs at night, males will call during the day when it rains. A higher-pitched, scream-like escape call is used to deter predators. Hear their advertisement call here.

Best Time and Place to Observe:  Individuals that show up in Louisiana are usually the result of horticultural shipments coming from peninsular Florida or elsewhere in their native or introduced range. They can also be transported as stowaways on vehicles and other cargo. Therefore, they are most likely to be detected in or near plant nurseries, especially in the New Orleans area. Examine any plants bought for the presence of this invasive species. Also, if you live near plant nurseries or other stores that sell plants, listen closely for their calls, which would occur usually in the warmer months of the year.

Global Conservation Status: Cuban Treefrogs have a wide distribution, a presumed large population, and tolerate a broad range of habitats, and thus, are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. Their NatureServe Global Conservation Status Rank is G5 (Secure).

Federal Conservation Status: None

Louisiana Conservation Status: Exotic Cuban Treefrogs do not have any special status in Louisiana.

***If you suspect you have observed or heard this species in Louisiana, please take a picture or get a recording of the animal, if possible, and send it to me. We really want to get on top of any possible introductions into the state.

If you are certain you have a Cuban Treefrog, you should collect it. Be warned though that the sticky, noxious substance secreted by Cuban Treefrogs can irritate your skin and mucus membranes. If handled without gloves, care should be exercised not to bring your hands near your face, as effects from the secretion may last an hour or more. Thorough handwashing thereafter is recommended. A collected Cuban Treefrog can be humanely euthanized by, using a gloved-hand, placing it into a plastic bag, and liberally applying benzocaine (e.g. toothache gel) to the back or belly of the frog. The Cuban Treefrog will quickly lose consciousness, and then you can seal the bag and place it in the freezer overnight. These specimens are useful to science, and I would be happy to get them from you.***

Author's Remarks: There is an established population of this species in the Audubon area. The record from Jefferson Parish in Summer 2013 likely represents a lone waif. In addition, I have verified another waif from the Slidell area in St. Tammany Parish in Summer 2013, a third from the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans in Spring 2015, and another in late 2015 from the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. In November of 2016, I verified two individuals from a plant nursery in the heart of Lafayette, and later verified individuals from Baton Rouge. Eight individuals of varying size classes were reported in a few months span in late 2016 from the grounds of Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. In 2017, we observed hundreds of individuals in the Audubon area of New Orleans. In 2018, we discovered another likely established (or establishing) population in St. Charles Parish. Other individuals have popped up occasionally since then, usually in population centers. I have also seen this species in Florida, where they cause both ecologic and economic damage. This species is common in the pet trade.

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