Toxic toads

I heard a few faint, froggy croaks coming from the dying perennials in the garden.  It seemed a little late in the season for the local amphibians to be active.  But wind and coolish temperatures didn’t deter an appearance by this little American Toad — hiding in the litter under the aging peony vegetation.

American Toad

It’s not much bigger than the chunk of mulch it was sitting on (about 2 inches long). 

American Toad

Not the most attractive skin with its lumps and spots, but those large lumps right behind the eyes (called parotid glands) are the toad’s secret weapons.

Amphibian skin is really quite special.  It can absorb water like a sponge when its owner is dehydrated, and it can secrete a variety of chemicals its owner might use for defense.  Poison dart frogs aren’t the only amphibians to use toxic chemicals to deter predators; several Toad species (in the genus Bufo) secrete a combination of chemicals called “bufotoxin”, which induce a variety of debilitating reactions in animals that try to eat them.  Although concentrations of bufotoxin vary from species to species, one website claims that “the skin of an average-sized toad can cause significant symptoms and even death in humans and other animals”.

Pet owners beware — don’t let your dogs lick any toads.

5 thoughts on “Toxic toads

  1. Are you in danger if you pick up a toad? Or only if you try to eat it? I have picked up toads before and never had a problem, so maybe you don’t get enough poison in you through your skin.

    • Right — just don’t eat the toad, or lick its skin. Some toads (and frogs) secrete more poisonous substances than others, so it depends what kind of amphibian you are handling. If children are playing with the animals, I would make sure to have them wash their hands.

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