Sharing my love of the natural world through essays and photography
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
It Had to Be Done
I have a Cuban Tree Frog in my freezer and it makes me sad. It's in the freezer because Cuban Tree Frogs are invasive exotic species that outcompete native frog and lizard species for food and habitat, and even eat them. Even their tadpoles compete with other species. Their skin has toxic secretions and they can make other animals that touch or eat them sick. They are causing huge environmental harm here in Florida, outside of their natural habitat with disease and predators that will control their populations. Biologists recommend that if you find a Cuban Tree Frog in Florida, you should kill it. And freezing is a humane way to do this. When I found this big frog sleeping on a fence in my yard, my heart sunk, because I knew what I had to do. I hate killing animals. I tried to find someone who would take it off my hands, someone who would use it to do environmental education or who would keep it in captivity and know to never let it get out or spawn. But I couldn't find anyone like that. And when I looked on line to make sure I was doing the right thing, I read that it was actually illegal to release them and that it was my responsibility to kill it. Wow. Heavy stuff.
Cuban Tree Frog
I'm not entirely sure, but I think it could have been the same Cuban Tree Frog that I found living in a rock cavity on my front porch earlier this summer. I didn't kill that frog because I had no way of getting it out to catch it in the first place. The frog had chosen a very secure hiding space. And so it sat in its hole, day and night, looking out at me like Jabba the Hutt. I checked on it regularly for several days, until one morning, to my relief, I found the hole empty. I immediately plugged it up with a paper towel and the frog did not return. Or so I thought.
Cuban Tree Frog in The Hole
Then last week, when I was cutting bamboo in the yard, I saw it. Big, about twice the size of our native tree frogs, and beige, with huge toe pads. Definitely a Cuban Tree Frog. I was wearing garden gloves for protection, so I reached over and grabbed it. It wasn't at all hard to catch, which made this feel even worse. I put the frog into a plastic mango container and poked some air holes in it, in case I could find someone to take it. I felt guilty taking a photographs of a condemned creature, so I just took a few shots on my phone for a record. I sat the container with the Tree Frog on the table and looked at it, feeling great sadness and respect for the beauty and life of this creature, but also knowing that it was impossible for it to remain here. It was a beautiful animal with huge, patterned eyes, distinctive facial features, and such delicate and interesting toes. And I felt this terrible sense of guilt. Who put me in charge of life or death? But there was even more guilt knowing what would happen if I let it go. This stewardship thing is hard.
Cuban Tree Frog
I read that the preferred way to kill a Cuban Tree Frog is to rub benzocaine or some other topical numbing agent on its abdomen, and then freeze it. This is supposed to knock them out and make the freezing more humane. I am sad to admit that I did not have any benzocaine (but I will buy some to have on hand if I ever need it again) and so I just put the mango container with the frog in the freezer, wrapped in a plastic bag so I couldn't see it. I didn't feel very brave or heroic. I told the frog that I was very sorry, and that if I had found it in another place and time, I would have admired and appreciated it for all its glory. I would have photographed it and told everyone at home about how lucky I was to have seen one of these amazing animals. But this is the sad reality of invasive exotic species. They can be beautiful and wonderful, in their native environment. But outside of that place, they become ecological horrors, through no fault of their own. I have a Cuban Tree Frog in my freezer and it makes me sad.