The National Park Service is warning Californians to not lick the Sonoran Desert toad, which lives in parts of Imperial and Riverside Counties.
The San Francisco Chronicle says the toads are known for secreting a psychedelic chemical but it has toxins that could make people severely sick.
“These toads have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin,” the park service warned in a bizarre and instantly viral Facebook post published on Halloween night.
“It can make you sick if you handle the (toad) or get the poison in your mouth,” the post continued. “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.”
Officials attached a black-and-white photo of the desert toad, one of the largest in North America, with glowing eyes and a moist, wrinkled body.
This amphibian lives in a geographic range that spans Sinaloa, Mexico, and the Southwestern U.S. — including parts of Imperial and Riverside counties in California that abut the Colorado River.
The substance excreted from its glands gained popularity when Mexican doctor Octavio Rettig preached about the rapturous experience of “smoking toad” during a TEDX talk at Burning Man in 2013, later described in a New Yorker magazine profile.
“By infusing a bit of humor, paired with an amazing photo of the Sonoran Desert toad, we recently highlighted this unique creature across National Park Service social channels,” Dave Barak, a National Parks public affairs specialist, said of the widely shared Facebook post, which conveyed a serious message: Sonoran Desert toads, like other wildlife, should be admired and appreciated from a safe distance.
The toad have toxic skin and glands, which evolved to ward off such predators as coyotes, raccoons and skunks, according to Jeff Alvarez, founder of the the Wildlife Project, an environmental research and consulting company based in Sacramento.
The Western toad’s secretions are “foul tasting” and could potentially alter the mental state of a predator, Alvarez said, but would feel more like a heavy dose of Novocaine to a human, Alvarez said, noting that “there is a cohort of people, typically young and experimental,” who try to lick the amphibian anyway.
Photo Credit: kuhnmi, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons