You've probably hear stories about dogs or other animals that died after eating a toad, and maybe you've heard about animals that learned to lick toads to enjoy the hallucinogenic effects. It's possible that the story of the frog prince came about after someone kissed a frog and started hallucinating. Toads and frogs in the bufonidae family carry strange toxins in their skin.
These chemicals, called bufotoxins, probably evolved to deter predators but they may offer a variety of other uses, including as medicine. Bufo gargarizans, an Asian species of toad, produces a substance that could even prove useful in the treatment of certain cancers. According to one 2011 study, the toad produces a substance that effects "significant antitumor activity, including inhibition of cell proliferation, induction of cell differentiation, induction of apoptosis, disruption of the cell cycle, inhibition of cancer angiogenesis, reversal of multi-drug resistance, and regulation of the immune response."
Other bufotoxins have been used to treat diseases among horses and cattle. Bufotoxins have been individually studied in the past but there was no single compendium of research on them. Roberto Ibáñez, a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, has co-authored a paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that brings together everything currently known to science about bufotoxins. He helped to identify 47 species of frogs and toads which are used in traditional medicines and then narrowed in on the 15 species that are members of the bufonidae family.
But don't you know it, this research is going on while many of these frogs and toads are seriously declining. Read about the current state of frog and toad research at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: Brian Gratwicke)