Frogpocalypse Now

In South Florida, cane toads are so numerous that they seem to be dropping from the sky. They’re overtaking parking lots and backyards, can weigh almost six pounds, and pack enough poison to kill pets. Why the surge?

America seen from a satellite at night blooms with lights, up one coast, down the other, and all across the middle. If you focus on the lights of South Florida and then move in closer on a metro area—say, Naples or ­Miami or West Palm Beach—and then zoom in on a particular mall or commercial strip or residential area, and then on a particular streetlight, and then on the illuminated circle that the streetlight throws on the ground, you may see some frog-like shapes. Go in as close as you can, down to the round, black, gold-flecked eye of one of those shapes, in which the light above it is a pinpoint blue reflection. You are eye-to-eye with a cane toad, one of the most successful invasive species on the planet.

Cane toads flock to lights. Across South Florida, in all kinds of man-made places, they appear on warm evenings. A bug drawn to the glow hits the glass and falls; a cane toad snaps open its wide mouth and gloms the bug with a long, adhesive, party-­favor-like tongue. The toad’s mouth closes.

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