South Texas’ cane toad has bragging rights as North America’s largest.
Somewhere on Texans’ very long bragging-rights list — whether at the top or the bottom depends on your personal preferences — is the fact that Texas hosts more species of toads within its borders than any other state.
But the toad-related points of pride don’t end there; Texas is also home to the largest toad that occurs in North America. How large is it? Insert your favorite size-related Texas expression here, but the cane toad does help prove the saying, “Everything’s bigger in Texas.”
This huge toad goes by a handful of names: giant toad, marine toad or cane toad. If its name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been accidentally (sometimes deliberately) introduced into many places around the world. It’s a scourge in Australia, Florida and Hawaii, among other spots.
The cane toad occurs naturally in northern South America and throughout Central America and makes it into the United States in far South Texas (found only in Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata counties).
The cane toad differs from its toad kin not only by size (on average 4-6 inches and up to an impressive 9 inches as adults) but also by the strength of the toxin emitted from the large glands on the sides of its head. All toads have these parotoid glands, which produce toxins to repel would-be predators.
When threatened, the cane toad produces a milky-white toxin from its extra-large parotoids. While toxins from other Texas toads may leave a bad taste in the mouth of an overly curious pet, cane toad toxins can cause more serious health problems. South Texas pet owners should avoid letting their cats and dogs bite or lick cane toads. If you suspect an encounter, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
Cane toads in Australia have expanded their range considerably since their initial introductions in the 1930s. There’s no evidence that the cane toad is expanding its range farther into Texas, but the potential does exist.
If you spot a cane toad, please report it to theon iNaturalist to help track the status of this species.
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