You Are Wrong About Toad Venom

I was watching an old PewDiePie video where he introduced his new pet toad Slippy to the world, and in the video there is a discussion about how Slippy is venomous, could cause hallucinations, but could also be poisonous.

To be honest it was really confusing, but it totally makes sense. The information out there about toads, toad venom, and their poison is effectively very confusing. So let me quickly clear things up for you.

Toads do not secrete venom and do not have teeth, stingers, or other means of injecting venom. However, all toads are poisonous and some toad species can secrete toxins capable of causing hallucinations.

Let’s have a look at why toads are not venomous, why all toads are poisonous, which toads can cause hallucinations, and why you may have thought the wrong thing about “toad venom.”

Toads Are Not Venomous

Venomous animals are capable of secreting venom (a toxin), and are capable of injecting it by means of a bite or sting. 

Animals secreting venom, capable of injecting It by means of a bite or sting.

Definition of venomous

You may notice that there are two parts of the definition of venomous.

  • Firstly, the animal needs to be able to secrete a toxin classified as venom.

  • Secondly, the animal needs to be able to inject it into another animal by means of a bite, sting, or another evolved apparatus through a process called envenomation.

Toads do not secrete a toxin scientifically classified as venom. Venom is a type of poison with a mixture of small and large molecules that requires an active injury like a wound to find its way into the bloodstream.

That is where the need for a means of injecting it comes into play.

Even if they could secrete venom, toads do not have a means of injecting the toxic substance.

Toads do not have a way of biting their enemies because they do not have teeth.

Toads do not have any other means of injecting a venom because they do not have a stinger like scorpions for example.

There are only two venomous frog species among over 7,400 known frog species, and neither are toads.

Therefore, toads are not venomous animals. However, toads are poisonous. Let’s have a look at why toads are poisonous and what this means to humans. 

All Toads Are Poisonous

All toads have parotoid glands on the sides of their head behind their eyes that can secrete toxins. Toads naturally secrete one or more of the following toxins: Bufotoxin, Bufotenin, 5-MeO-DMT, Bufotalin, and Bufalitoxin.

A substance capable of causing death or illness if taken into the body, may that be through the sinuses or blood stream.

Definition of poisonous

Toad poison is a thick, creamy white substance that is released by parotoid glands located behind a toad’s eyes and sometimes generally by warts (glands) on their skin. 

Toad parotoid gland

Toad toxin is usually released when a toad is stressed, perceives danger, is squeezed, or swallowed causing its muscles to contract and produce the toxin to defend itself. 

Each species of toad has a specific type of toxin that it may secrete:

Type of ToadActive Toxin
Cane ToadBufotoxin, Bufotenin
Colorado River Toad5-MeO-DMT, Bufotenin
American ToadBufotoxin
European Green ToadBufotoxin
Western ToadBufotoxin
Oak ToadBufotoxin
Common ToadBufotalin, Bufalitoxin, Bufotoxin
Japanese Common ToadBufatolin, Bufotoxin

The side effects of ingesting toad poison will generally depend on the toad species, ingested toxin, amount ingested, as well as the person’s age, pre-existing conditions and many other factors.

Learn more about poisonous toads on our blog

However, a couple of toad species are extremely dangerous to humans irrespective of the person’s health status.

The Colorado River Toad and the Cane Toad are highly toxic and can be lethal in humans if their poisons are ingested because both species secrete Bufotenin.

One of the toad species in the above list also secretes a toxin capable of producing hallucinations in humans and other animals.

Let’s have a look at this example since most people have this toad in mind when discussing “toad venom.”

Hallucinogenic Toad Properties

Some toad species such as the Colorado River toad have secretions, notably  5-MeO-DMT, which can cause hallucinations in humans and other animals when ingested or smoked.

Drug or substance that causes hallucinations

Definition of hallucinogenic

Colorado River Toads have highly toxic secretions containing 5MeO-DMT. Bufotenin and 5MeO-DMT are known to cause psychedelic reactions in people, but can also cause poisoning and death. 

Side effects of ingesting Colorado River Toad secretions can impact the affected person’s neurological, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal systems.

The amount of these toads in the wild has greatly decreased due to the illegal drug trade, and because of the nefarious side effects, it is illegal to be in possession of a Colorado River Toad in the state of California:

“It is unlawful to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native reptile or amphibian, or part thereof […]”

California Code of Regulations

Many people have been arrested for transporting or possessing Colorado River Toads in a number of states including Colorado, California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Therefore, smoking or ingesting hallucinogenic toad secretions is an illegal act that can lead to jail time.

I also want to clear up a very important point.

This is a stock photo: it is not ok to kiss or to lick toads

Some people think licking toads “to get high” is a good idea.

As you now know, the vast majority of toad species do not have hallucinogenic properties, all toads are poisonous, and toads, like many other animals, can carry viral or bacterial diseases on their skin including salmonella (CTNF).

So, be smart, don’t lick toads.

You may be wondering how it is that you did not  know this information. How is it that you thought that toads were venomous, when they clearly do not have any way of injecting a toxin?

Well, I’d like to argue that it’s not really your fault you did not know all of this. Let me explain.

It’s Probably Not Your Fault You Were Wrong

There is a ton of misinformation online about toads being venomous.

I’d like to believe that the authors of these articles were well-intentioned and may not have known that toads are non-venomous for the same reason as you.

Publications affirming that toads are venomous

When you write an article online you often look up other resources to back your content, and if everyone’s saying the same thing about toads being venomous, then it’s very possible that the writers believed that this was true as well.

Somewhat like the game of telephone, if one reference is wrong, there is a possibility that the rest of the information will be false down the line.

And so the readers, like you, also believe that toads are venomous after reading many articles saying the same things.

Heck, even William Shakespeare wrongfully stated that toads are venomous!

“Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

William Shakespeare

So, don’t believe everything you read on the internet (or in books I guess), don’t lick toads, and try to find strong specialized resources in the field of study when learning about a topic – like our blog for specialized information on toads and frogs 🙂

Sources

Oxford Dictionary, Definitions

Science.org.au, Poison vs venom

California Code of Regulations, Title 14 – Natural Resources, Division 1 – Fish and Game Commission-Department of Fish and Game, Subdivision 1 – Fish, Amphibians and Reptiles, Chapter 5 – Native Reptiles and Amphibians, Section 40 – General Provisions Relating to Native Reptiles and Amphibians
Universal Citation: 14 CA Code of Regs 40, § 40. General Provisions Relating to Native Reptiles and Amphibians

In Style, Why Are Celebrities Smoking Toad Venom?

9 News Australia, Cane Toad Spotted in Sydney

About The Author
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.