The Sonoran Desert toad is somewhat infamous for a toxin it secretes which can be used to have a hallucinogenic experience. However, licking them has suddenly turned into a trend in the United States and the authorities are not happy about it. The Sonoran Desert toad, also the Colorado River toad, is mostly found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. They are known for exuding toxins from glands within their skin that have psychoactive properties.
The toad’s primary defense system is glands that produce a poison that may be potent enough to kill a grown dog. The strange behavior came to light after the National Park Service (NPS) posted an unusual message warning visitors not to lick the Sonoran desert toad (Incilius alvarius) “As we say with most things you come across in a national park, whether it be a banana slug, unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with glowing eyes in the dead of night, please refrain from licking.”
“These toads have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin. It can make you sick if you handle the frog or get the poison in your mouth,” the service advised in its post. The toad makes a distinctive “weak, low-pitched toot, lasting less than a second”, it added.
Toad-licking is not a new practice with many parts of Africa and South America providing such services on the black market. However, the health concerns are equally well documented, and over the years, multiple deaths have been attributed to overdosing or constant abuse of the toxins.
According to the official website of the Organ Pipe Cactus national monument in Arizona, hallucinations and euphoria are the effects of consuming the toxin but can be lethal in high doses.
However, toad-licking has evolved into a recreational drug and has long been regarded as life threatening. Not all toads can produce a high, and for those that can, each toad produces a different high. While the animal is listed as “Least Concern” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, they are considered threatened in New Mexico because of habitat loss, roadway mortality and overcollection for drug use.
The toad, according to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, remains underground in the heat or cold of the day, depending on the seasons. The toad is active from late May to September but principally, they are active during the summer rainy season.
The warning is not just limited to human beings as the owners were also asked to refrain their dogs from licking the toad as the toxins can also impact them, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum told The Guardian.