No, it’s not a horror movie-it’s real life in Florida.

Marine toads are native in an area from Mexico and Central America to the Amazon. They first arrived in Florida in 1955, when a shipment imported by a pet dealer was accidentally released at the Miami International Airport, then they spread through canals into other areas. Some pet dealers deliberately released the toads in the early 1960s, probably because they were too unpleasant to sell.

“They’re on the bottom of the list of the toads we sell,” says Mike Purcell of the Aquarium Connection in Gainesville. “But they’re extremely durable, so they’re really easy to keep as pets.”

“They’re not interesting or pleasant to look at, and they secrete a toxin powerful enough to harm your dog or cat,” says Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecologist with the University of Florida. “While they’re not aggressive towards people, you could poison yourself if you’re not careful when handling them.

“They resemble the familiar Southern toad, but can grow to 9 inches in length and more than 2 pounds in weight,” says Mazzotti. “Marine toads prefer developed areas, where they use man-made canals and ponds for spawning and gather under electric lights to feed on insects. Too large andslow to flee predators, the toads defend themselves by secreting a milky toxin from glands located behind the head.”

The toxin is most dangerous if it’s swallowed, but it also irritates the eyes and mucus membranes and may cause allergic skin reactions.

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