Toadfest Part III — Sonoran Desert Toad (The “Psychedelic Toad”)
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The last of the three species of toads to be found in Sabino Canyon is by far the most physically imposing. A Sonoran Desert Toad is huge in comparison with either the Red-spotted Toad or Couch’s Spadefoot Toad, several times the size of either of these species. With the exception of the American Bullfrog the Sonoran Desert Toad is the largest toad or frog in North America. One of these bruisers can be about seven inches in length and weigh well over 1/2 pound.
This species is immediately recognizable by its size. It is impossible to confuse with any other species. Typically, a Sonoran Desert Toad is dull green in color with a white underbelly and yellowish or reddish accents on its dorsal surfaces and outer legs. A Sonoran Desert Toad has very large parotid glands, bean-shaped glands that sit on either side of the toad’s neck and just behind its head. There are similar glands located on the tops of the toad’s rear thighs.
Sonoran Desert Toads are primarily nocturnal. Sometimes, during the rainy months, one can see them in daytime, usually in or near water. At night, these toads forage all over the desert floor. I’ve seen them on more than one occasion hopping around and looking for food — mostly insects and invertebrates — a half mile from Sabino Creek.
The toad’s parotid glands and those glands on its thighs secrete a highly toxic substance, so toxic that it is potentially lethal. Dogs sometimes die after coming into contact with one of these toads.
There are urban legends floating around that back in the 60s young people would ingest toad toxin because of its hallucinogenic properties. I sort of scoffed at this, but curiosity got the better of me and I did a bit of on-line research. To my astonishment I almost immediately came across a web site that extolled the ostensibly beneficial psychedelic qualities of toad toxin, contained a recipe for harvesting the stuff, and described how to smoke it.
Well, to each his or her own, I say. Personally, I’m not going to recommend deliberately ingesting any toxic substance, especially one that is potentially lethal. My involvement with these toads is strictly limited to photographing them.
Image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 mm f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 125, f16 @ 1/160.