A large and voracious predator, the Cuban treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) is an unusual species, being one of only a few amphibians that is capable of using relatively salty water for some stages of its life cycle (3). Along with other frogs in the genus Osteopilus, it also has a strange developmental feature, in which the skin on the top of the head is fused with the bones of the skull (3)(4). The Cuban treefrog varies in colour, although it is usually grey to grey-green or light brown, with mottled and warty skin. It has very enlarged toe pads on the end of each digit, with no webbing between the toes on the front feet and only slight webbing on the rear toes (2)(3)(4). Tadpoles of the Cuban treefrog have a rounded body, with a black back and a fleshy, wide-finned, grey-brown tail which is scattered with dark spots (2)(4).
A broad diet and the ability to reproduce rapidly have enabled the Cuban treefrog to become a highly successful invasive species. It is an ambush predator, targeting prey that comes within easy reach such as small insects, spiders and other invertebrates, as well as insect larvae, small lizards and other frogs (2)(3)(5).
A breeding male Cuban treefrog can be identified by horny growths on its thumbs and an inflated vocal sac under its chin, which it uses to make loud vocalisations to attract the female. It generally begins mating at the onset of the rainy season, breeding in ponds and along lake margins, in drainage ditches, temporary pools, cisterns, and other manmade structures, as well as in brackish water bodies, such as marshes. The female lays between 130 and 3,000 eggs, and the Cuban treefrog tadpoles hatch from the egg within one or two days, completing development in just a few weeks (1)(2)(3)(4)(5).
Native to Cuba, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, the Cuban treefrog is also recorded as an invasive species in Florida (USA), Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Bonaire and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands (1)(2)(3)(4)(5).
The Cuban treefrog occurs from sea level up to elevations of 1,110 metres. It is often found on the ground and on tree trunks in a wide range of habitats, including forests, mangroves, coastal areas, and areas of brackish water. It is particularly associated with disturbed habitats, including in and around areas of human habitation. During the day, the Cuban treefrog will retreat to warm, moist spots such as hollow logs, burrows, bird nests, houses, cisterns and other fresh water supplies (1)(4)(5).
There are currently no known threats this species (1).
As an invasive species, the Cuban treefrog poses a significant threat to populations of native amphibian species in the areas where it has become established; adults prey on smaller native frogs and compete with them for breeding sites, while the tadpoles also prey on the eggs and tadpoles of other amphibians. It is sometimes considered to be a potential vector of disease, and its skin secretes an irritant that can affect humans (2)(5).
Considered invasive in many parts of its current range, the Cuban treefrog is not targeted by any direct conservation action (1). In some areas, preventative measures have been taken to halt further colonisation and dispersal of the Cuban treefrog, including screening cisterns and water sources, regulating water distribution, and monitoring imports into areas where the Cuban treefrog is currently absent (5).
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Owen, J.L. (2005) The Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis): Distribution, Diet, and Reproduction of an Invasive Species in the British Virgin Islands. Masters Thesis, Texas Tech University, USA.
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