NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — A different kind of superhero stalks the streets at night in North Naples.
Armed with a large white bucket, an industrial-style flashlight and black latex gloves, 10-year-old Landen Grey is the Toad Trapper.
Accompanied by his father, Landen has been hired by North Naples residents to rid yards and condo complexes of cane toads, a poisonous invasive species that puts pet cats and dogs and other animals in danger. The toads are especially prevalent during the summer.
They’re usually done within an hour at a property. The toads usually are about the size of a small grapefruit but can grow even bigger. Their lumpy gray and brown skin gives them the appearance of rocks until you see their beady eyes and fat frowns.
They said the whole idea started in their backyard.
“We’ve got a sidewalk through our neighborhood, and we just started catching toads, and we’d go out and spend an hour,” the father said.
“We knew the peril of the toads, and it just kind of organically evolved into talking about business and saying, you know, ‘Landen, the amount of money that people spend on their dogs and their pets, these things are deadly, and you could probably make a business out of it,’ and it just kind of morphed from there.”
They began by using NextDoor, a social media app and website for communities to help keep neighbors in touch with each other. They traversed the sidewalks of Victoria Park — which is along Airport-Pulling Road between Immokalee and Vanderbilt Beach roads — and would catch 20 toads in a span of six to nine houses.
Landen’s mother, Heather, helps him organize his schedule and keep track of emails and phone calls. She even has taken Landen out on at least one hunt while Tim was away, and Landen’s 5-year-old sister got to come along, much to her dismay.
“I’d say she was more scared than interested,” Landen said with a laugh. “After we were done hunting, she came up to the porch and saw a frog, and she started screaming.”
They also find value in helping the community reduce the invasive cane toad species, which has increased in population rapidly and made its way up the state from Miami. The toads can eat anything from lizards and other toads to small mice and rodents.
The cane toads also have been quickly killing off native Florida toads, so much so that Tim and Landen say they have seen only four or five native toads compared with the 400 invasive cane toads they have identified.
The toads are prolific breeders and lay 8,000 to 25,000 eggs at a time.
Their poison is white and sticky. If a dog or cat grabs the toad, the poison will stick to its mouth. The team says that’s why it’s important to grab a wet rag and wipe the poison out of a pet’s mouth rather than just trying to flush it out.
When they catch the toads, Landen and his dad stick them in a bucket in a garage fridge for two or three days and then freeze them before disposing of them.
Recently, they have worked with state agencies to develop a way to use the toad poison for tadpole traps. The poison attracts the tadpoles, which then can be trapped and eradicated before they become toads.