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Toxins, Warts and Other Toad Facts

Updated on June 19, 2012

How is a toad different from a frog?

One of the most common sought after toad facts is the difference between them and frogs. Taxonomy doesn’t formally differentiate between frogs and toads, Any number of frog species from the order anura (amphibians without tails) are referred to as toads. Traditionally toads have a drier, more leathery skin than frogs and are more terrestial. This is certainly true of toads in the family bufonidae, which are referred to as the true toads, such as the common European toad Bufo bufo. True toads area also characterized by short legs and large paratoid glands that produce toxins.

The term ‘toad’ gets used to refer to frogs that are completely different from true frogs, for example the semi-aquatic oriental fire bellied toad (Bombina orientalis) or the fully aquatic surinam toad (Pipa pipa)

A smug toad
A smug toad | Source

Can you catch warts from toads?

People frequently believe that you can catch warts if you touch a toad. This is now doubt due to the warty appearance of toads, but it is not true. Human warts are caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (hpv), whereas the wart-like growths of toads are a natural trait of their skin and are thought to improve their camouflage abilities, helping them blend in with the background. Since the ‘warts’ on toads are not caused by viruses or any other infectious agents you cannot actually catch them.

However, toads were frequently thought to be associated with sinister and evil forces. They were thought to be associated with the devil or with witches. Even in Harry Potter toads are one of the pets that the students in Hogwarts are allowed to have (the others are owls, cats or rats). However toads are out of favour as wizards’ or witches’ pets, only poor Neville Longbottom has a toad called Trevor.

The fire bellied toad is not a 'true toad'
The fire bellied toad is not a 'true toad'

Toad facts, the biggest Bufo

The biggest bufo toad is the cane toad (Bufo marinus), the Guinness Book of Records the biggest recorded specimen was a a pet toad called Prinsen, which weighed 5.8 pounds and was 15 inches long. When it feels threatened the toad puffs itself up with air to make itself seem even bigger. Size of course is not its only defense, like all toads it produces venom, generically known as bufotoxin, in its paratoid glands behind its eyes, and its skin. The exact composition of the toxin varies depending on the species of toad, the cane toad’s is particularly venomous, it can kill an adult dog that attempts to eat it.

Toads as a controlled substance, the Colorado River toad

Not only do frogs produce toxins to put people off, the Colorado River toad, Bufo Alvinus, found in northwestern mexico and southeastern United States, makes secretes psychoactive toxins containing bufotenin and 5-MeO-MDT and which some people have used as hallucinogens. This led to the practice of ‘toad licking’, which is now being replaced by ‘toad smoking’. This is probably fortunate since ingestion of the venom is pretty bad for health, dogs that have attacked the toad have been paralyzed or even killed. Bufotenin is a controlled substance and possession of the toad for the purpose of using the venom is illegal. People have been prosecuted for possession of ‘drug paraphernalia’, the toad!.

The psychoactive Colorado River toad
The psychoactive Colorado River toad | Source
Midwife toad, Alytes obstetricans
Midwife toad, Alytes obstetricans | Source

The midwife toad: unusual parental care

One of the characteristics of toads is that they lay their jelly covered strands, as opposed to the clumps of frogs. One genus of frogs takes parental care to an unusual (for an amphibian) level. Males of the midwife toad, several species of which are found throughout Europe, wraps the strands around its legs and back, and carries them with him until they are ready to hatch.

When attacked the midwife toad secretes a strong smelling venom which protects it from predators. The eggs and tadpoles, however are defenceless, and would be in danger of becoming dinner if they were merely left in the water.

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