TOADS GIVE YOU WARTS?
by Whit Gibbons
December 4, 2005
The following are answers to several questions I have been asked recently
about frogs and toads.
Q. A friend
and I were discussing whether frogs can give you warts or not. Can they?
She says that if they carry the virus and urinate on you, that you can
get a wart. I didn't think that you could get warts from frogs. But what
about toads, which already have warts themselves?
A. An old
superstition has been that toads can give you warts (they do indeed have
wart-like bumps on their bodies), but I have never seen any scientific
evidence that it is true for toads or frogs. Until someone actually proves
that it can happen (and no one ever has), let's assume it is not true.
As far as a frog actually carrying a virus that causes warts, my dermatologist
says she has never heard of that being a problem.
Q. My buddy
says that it is a myth that natives in Africa use poison arrows made from
frogs to kill animals they hunt for, or even other people. I say that
some frogs produce poison on their skin and that somehow they rub it on
their arrows to make them deadly poisonous. Who's right?
A. You are
right about frogs being used to make a poison that can kill large game
animals or even people. Some members in a family of South American frogs
known as the poison dart frogs produce alkaloid toxins on their skin that
are among the deadliest poisons known. I know of someone who touched a
minor cut on his arm after picking up one of these frogs and within seconds
went into a coma-like condition and almost died. When natives of a certain
region of Colombia rub the skin of the frogs on their blowgun darts, they
produce a lethal weapon that can kill an animal almost instantly upon
penetration. Poison dart frogs usually come out in the daytime, instead
of at night like most other frogs. Their body color patterns include brightly
colored blues, reds, or yellows, which are presumably warning colors to
other animals that might try to eat them. Poison dart frogs eat ants and
somehow transform the ant venom into the deadly poison.
may sound like a dumb question, but have you ever heard of smoking a toad,
and why is it done? A friend says she heard of someone from California
who smoked toads at a campfire on a beach. I think she is pulling my leg,
so she said to ask you.
A. The first
rule is to believe anything you hear about California, especially if it
happens on a beach, until someone proves it false. As it turns out, this
one happens to be true anyway. But toads are smoked like cigarettes, not
like oysters or marshmallows. The narcotics aspect started with toad licking,
in which one laps up the toxic secretions on a toad's head (the large
brown glands behind the eyes) to achieve psychedelic effects. But by consuming
toxins, in other words poisonous substances, a frequent licker can become
ill, maybe even die. But do not dismay. Clever Californians found a way
around the problem. Heat breaks down the toxic components in the toad's
glandular secretions without affecting the sought-after hallucinogenic
compounds. The secretions can be dried, rolled in cigarette paper, and
you're ready for your trip.
obviously could have legal implications from the perspective of narcotics
agents. But such a ritual could also create a problem for state and federal
wildlife officials. Because the largest toads native to the United States
are the enormous Colorado River toads found out West, they are the ones
most likely to be sought by California toad smokers. This was a species
once proposed for endangered species listing, so additional concern would
naturally be raised about another assault on the environmental welfare
of these laid-back amphibians. I personally doubt that toad licking or
toad smoking will ever become a serious problem but let me go on record
as saying, do not do either for health reasons. Plus, it is illegal some
places, despite that saying about "if toads are outlawed. . . ."
you have an environmental question or comment, email