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Are Cane Toads Poisonous?

Amphibians are incredibly diverse and fascinating creatures, but many species can pose risks for humans and animals. Cane Toads have become quite a problem worldwide, and they are classified as an invasive species. However, their invasive nature is not the only concern, and they can be harmful to the surrounding lifeforms. 

Cane Toads are highly poisonous, they secrete a toxic substance from the glands on their skin, and generally use their poison as a defence mechanism in the wild. Adult Cane Toads can secrete enough poison to kill a small child.

While Cane Toads are abundant in numerous regions worldwide including Australia and Florida, there are still many ways to prevent negative consequences due to their toxicity levels. Join us as we discuss the toxins that Cane Toads secrete and how to protect yourself, your family, and your beloved pets from the related risks. 

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Are Cane Toads Poisonous?

Cane Toads (Rhinella Marina), otherwise known as Marine Toads, are toxic to small animals, large predators, and even humans. The severity of poisoning will depend on numerous factors, such as the animal, predator, or individual in question and the contact method. 

These toads are toxic to differing degrees throughout all of their metamorphic phases. Cane Toad tadpoles are highly toxic when ingested, and the skin of juvenile Cane Toads can be enough to kill many small animals. Still, young Cane Toads lack the typically large and poisonous parotid glands, making them less toxic than adults.

Adult Cane Toads can secrete enough poison to kill large predators that attempt to eat them, such as crocodiles. If their toxins enter a human’s bloodstream, it can cause serious illness and can even kill a small child. The poison secreted by Cane Toads can typically kill smaller animals, including common household pets like cats and dogs.

What Toxins Do Cane Toads Secrete?

Cane Toad secretions comprise a range of poisonous chemicals, but the most notable of these poisons is Bufotenin. Bufotenin has been classified as a schedule 9 drug under Australian law, alongside some dangerous and hard drugs. 

This classification was made since the chemical causes mild hallucinations amongst other side effects. While the degree of severity differs on a broad scale, the confirmed effects of Bufotenin and Bufotoxins include:

  • Mild psychedelic effects 
  • Systematic pressor activity
  • Oxygen starvation of the optic nerve
  • Inhibits sodium from leaving cells
  • Inhibits potassium from entering cells
  • Alterates heart rate and rhythm 

Cane Toads only secrete Bufotenin in minor quantities, while they secrete other toxins in higher quantities. Still, the components of Bufotenin are highly toxic as they affect the heart and the central nervous system, and they can be absorbed through vulnerable body tissues such as the mouth, nose, and eyes. 

While Bufotenin is extremely dangerous in higher quantities, this chemical has aided humanity in many ways, and it was used as arrow poison by ancient tribes. The toxin has advanced the medical field in its controlled form for cardiac surgery and cancer treatment.

How Do Cane Toads Secrete Toxins?

Cane Toads house their toxic substances in glands located on their backs behind their eyes called the paratoid glands. They secrete and release the toxin when they feel stressed or in danger.

The toxic substance generally has the appearance of a milky-white fluid. Many animals such as birds and native predators in the wild have learned to avoid these glands for their own safety. 

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These toads are most likely to secrete these substances when provoked, such as when they feel threatened and stressed or while predators are attacking them. It is very important to practice extreme caution, maintain a safe distance in Cane Toad habitats, and take appropriate precautions during handling. 

Cane Toad Poisoning

Once poisoned with Bufotoxins, individuals and animals will generally suffer numerous side effects. Animals are most vulnerable to these toxins, but humans may become ill depending on the method of contact. Notable toxicity side effects in animals include: 

  • Dark or red gums
  • Vomiting 
  • Frantic behavior 
  • Seizures 
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Disorientation 
  • Crying 
  • Excessive drooling 

Being poisoned by a Cane Toad can be far less risky for adult humans, but they can still cause many illnesses and severe outcomes for vulnerable individuals. The risks are far higher when animals ingest the toxins or when the toxins enter a human’s bloodstream. 

Cane Toad Poisoning Treatment

Since the risks of Cane Toad poisoning are so severe for small children and animals, immediate medical assistance is necessary. However, there are a few things one could do to treat Cane Toad poisoning in the meantime. Such steps include washing out the mouth and area of contact with running water for at least 10 minutes.

Immediate medical or vet assistant will be necessary for any scenario involving Cane Toad poisoning, as their toxins can be fatal if left to move around within the bloodstream. Contact the nearest center and consult professionals for a thorough diagnosis and treatment plan as soon as possible.

Cane Toad Poisoning Prevention

While the risks of Cane Toad toxins are quite concerning, there are many ways to ensure that loved ones do not suffer such dire outcomes. It is always best to avoid handling amphibians, as there are many associated risks for handlers and amphibian species. 

However, it is entirely understandable that inquisitive and adventurous amphibian enthusiasts may want to get an up and close experience with such magnificent creatures. Always ensure that you practice the following precautions while handling Cane Toads or exploring Cane Toad habitats. 

  • Always wear gloves during handling.
  • Cover all open wounds or scratches. 
  • Never touch your face, mouth, nose, or eyes after handling. 
  • Thoroughly wash hands and other areas of contact with soap and water. 
  • Practice preventative measures to keep Cane Toads off your property

Cane Toads are undoubtedly fascinating creatures, but they are not to be underestimated. These toads have become far more territorial and aggressive in their will to survive, and it is always best to maintain a safe distance to ensure safety. Always wear protective gear when roaming their habitats during exploration and seek immediate medical assistance in the event of Cane Toad poisoning.

More About Cane Toads

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Daniella Master Herpetologist

Daniella is a Master Herpetologist and the founder of toadsnfrogs.com, a website dedicated to educating the general population on frogs by meeting them where they are in their online Google Search. Daniella is passionate about frogs and put her digital marketing skills and teaching experience to good use by creating these helpful resources to encourage better education, understanding, and care for frogs.