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.

Q. This 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.

Toad smoking 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. . . ."

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