The Audubon Zoo is home to hundreds of species from around the world, many of them dangerous and from tropical locales.
Recently, however, government officials have sounded the alarm about one species found near the zoo — an uninvited and unwanted creature from the Caribbean.
That species is the Cuban tree frog, which has lived for years in Florida but recently made the jump to the New Orleans area.
Brad Glorioso, a Lafayette-based official with the U.S. Geological Survey, is sounding the alarm about the hardy, multicolored creatures.
"They can cause both ecologic and economic harm and human impacts," Glorioso said. "We don't want these guys to get abundant everywhere."
A few months ago, some keepers at the Audubon Zoo noticed a few of the amphibians in the Asian exhibit. At first, not realizing that they weren't native species, they placed the frogs outside the exhibit to prevent them from coming to further harm, said Joel Hamilton, the zoo's general curator.
When they realized they were not native frogs, they notified the Geological Survey, which was able to confirm that there was a breeding colony between Audubon Park and the river, said Glorioso.
Zoo officials can't be sure, but they surmise the frogs came in with some landscape materials ordered from Florida, Hamilton said.
The Louisiana colony is the first known to exist outside of Florida, Glorioso said. It's worrisome, because the frogs seem to be able to withstand south Louisiana's winters, and they seem especially well adapted to the Gulf Coast environment.
They may seem harmless, but their skin secretions can irritate skin and eyes, and they are prodigious multipliers, easily able to take over backyard ponds, bird baths and the like, Glorioso said. What's more, the amphibian menace is likely to outcompete native tree frogs, like the green or squirrel tree frogs, and displace them, he said.
It can be hard to tell a Cuban tree frog apart from other types of frogs, but one indicator could be size. Female Cuban tree frogs can reach up to 100 millimeters in length, or about 4 inches, he said.
"If you see one that's as big as your hand, that's definitely a Cuban tree frog," Glorioso said. Those females sometimes eat smaller frogs, including members of their own species.
Cuban tree frogs also have a different call from other species, but for the non-specialist, it can be difficult to tell the difference, he said.
When Glorioso and others found a puddle containing approximately 2,000 Cuban tree frog tadpoles, they drained the puddle and euthanized the frogs, he said. Others that have been found also have been euthanized. But their efforts seem likely to just forestall the inevitable.
"I think they're here to stay," Glorioso said.