It could have been an extremely grim fairy tale – poisonous toads – Up Front

It could have been an extremely grim fairy tale – poisonous toads – Up Front – column

In the fairy tale, the princess kissed the frog, the frog turned into a handsome prince, and they lived happily ever after. Lucky thing she didn’t fall in love with a toad. If she had, the fairy tale would have gone like this: the princess kissed the toad, and she began to salivate, slur her words, and go into convulsions. She didn’t live happily ever after. In fact, she almost died.

Children — not to mention dogs, cats, and coyotes — often try to kiss, eat, or mouth toads, says University of Arizona toxicologist Michael Hitt. Trouble is, any toad that comes from the genus Bufo — including the Colorado River toad (found throughout the Western U.S.), the Great Plains toad, the Hawaiian toad, the African toad, and the South American toad — has a gland on the back of its head that secretes a venom that burns the mouth.

Hitt recently wrote in the Lancet of a five-year-old boy who ”had been seen . . . placing one of his toads in his mouth. Within 10 minutes of this action, he approached his mother, salivating profusely, and told her that he felt sick.” He was. The toxin from a Colorado River toad (Bufo alvarius), the most poisonous toad in North America, went straight to his central nervous system, causing partial paralysis — hence the slurred speech and seizures. He recovered within a week.

Although Hitt’s study is the first medical case history of a person being poisoned by a toad, toad toxin is nothing new. South American Indians have long dipped their arrows in it to make them poisonous. And German classical violinists used to handle toads before a performance because the toxins reduced the sweat on their palms. But as for enlisting toads in your search for a prince charming, that’s risky business.

COPYRIGHT 1986 Discover

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group