Can licking certain frogs actually kill you?


by Whit Gibbons
December 4, 2005

The following are answers to some questions I have been asked recently about frogs and toads.

Q. A friend and I discussed whether or not frogs could give you warts. Can you? She says if they carry the virus and urinate on you, you can get a wart. I didn't think you could get warts from frogs. But what about toads that already have warts themselves?

A., An old superstition was that toads can give you warts (they actually have wart-like bumps on their body), but I've never seen any scientific evidence that this is true of toads or frogs. Until someone actually proves that it can happen (and no one ever has), we assume it isn't true. In so far as a frog actually carries a virus that causes warts, my dermatologist says she has never heard of this being a problem.

Q. My buddy says it is a myth that natives of Africa use poison arrows from frogs to kill animals they hunt or even other people., I say that some frogs produce poison on their skin and that they do somehow rub it on their arrows to make them deadly poisonous. Who is right?

A. You are right that frogs are used to make a poison that can kill large game animals or even humans. Some members of a family of South American frogs known as poison dart frogs produce alkaloid poisons on their skin, which are among the deadliest known poisons. I know someone who touched a small cut on the arm after picking up one of these frogs and went into a coma-like state within seconds and almost died. When natives of a certain region of Colombia rub the frogs' skin on their blowgun arrows , they produce a deadly weapon that can kill an animal almost instantly upon entry. Poison dart frogs usually come out during the day instead of at night like most other frogs. Their body color patterns include bright blues, reds, or yellows that are believed to warn other animals that might try to eat them of colors. Poison dart frogs eat ants and somehow turn the ant poison into the deadly poison.

Q. That may sound like a stupid question, but have you ever heard of smoking a toad and why is it done? A friend says she heard from someone in California who smoked toads by the campfire on the beach. I think she's pulling on my leg so she told me to ask you.

A. The first rule is to believe everything you hear about California, especially if it happens on a beach, until someone proves it wrong. As it turns out, this is true anyway. But toads are smoked like cigarettes, not like oysters or marshmallows., The narcotic aspect started with toad licking, which is the process of running down the toxic secretions on a toad's head (the large brown glands behind the eyes) for psychedelic effects. But by consuming toxins, i.e. toxic substances, a frequent licker can get sick, maybe even die. But don't be alarmed. Clever Californians found a way around the problem. Heat breaks down the toxic components in the toad's glandular secretions without affecting the coveted hallucinogenic compounds. The secretions can be dried, rolled in rolling paper and you are ready for your trip.,

From the point of view of drug investigators, smoking toads could evidently have legal consequences. However, such a ritual could also create a problem for state and federal wildlife officials. Since the largest toads native to the United States are the giant Colorado River toads found in the west, they are the ones most likely to be sought after by California toad smokers. This was a species once suggested for the listing of endangered species, so of course additional concern would be expressed about another attack on the welfare of these relaxed amphibians, I personally doubt that toad licking or toad smoking will ever become a serious problem, but leave If you take me in by saying, don't do it for health reasons either. Also, in some places it's illegal, even though it says, “When toads are banned. . . . "
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