The other night, I caught a rerun of ‘The Simpsons’ entitled ‘Missionary: Impossible.’ In this particular episode, Homer reneges on a $10,000 pledge to PBS. When the whole town is ready to come after him with pitchforks and torches, Reverend Lovejoy steps in and sends Homer on a mission to the South Pacific until the heat dies down.
Once there, Homer quickly becomes bored without the benefit of television. To pass the time, he begins licking toads.
When Marge tries to call him on a radio, Homer hallucinates that it’s a toad talking to him. After his family tells him they’re proud of his humanitarian efforts, Homer replies, “I got some civilization to spread like butter… on the English muffin that is these people… with all their little nooks and crannies.” Wondering about his bizarre monologue, Bart accusingly asks, “Dad, are you licking toads?” Homer then says sheepishly, “I’m not not licking toads.”
This makes for a hilarious episode because of its outlandishness. Unfortunately, it may be all too real.
Last month, the National Park Service recently issued a warning on Facebook against licking Sonoran Desert toads.
“The Sonoran desert toad (Bufo alvarius), also known as the Colorado river toad, is one of the largest toads found in North America, measuring nearly 7 inches,” the agency wrote. “These toads have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin,” the statement continued. “It can make you sick if you handle the frog or get the poison in your mouth.”
Accordingly, the National Park Service advised hikers, “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. Thank you.”
While this would seem like common sense, the Service conceded, “Yet, here we are.” The warning is in response to an alarming trend of people seeking out the toad to lick it. The toad’s secretion is toxic and offers the amphibian a natural protection, as it can be deadly to other animals, including dogs. People seek it out, however, for its psychedelic properties. Some people even smoke the toxin, saying they experience euphoria and hallucinations.
The toad’s skin contains bufotenine, a chemical that is illegal to possess in California. However, according to the Oakland Zoo, in neighboring Arizona, a person can legally capture up to 10 toads with a proper license. Toad hunters may face criminal charges, though, if they capture toads with the intention of smoking their secretions. Robert Villa, the president of the Tucson Herpetological Society, fears that harvesting the toads for their secretions may put them at risk of population decline and possibly even extinction.
Congress created the National Park Service on August 25, 1916, through the National Park Service Organic Act. As part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency manages all national parks, most national monuments, and other natural, historical, and recreational properties. It is tasked with preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management while also making them available and accessible for public use and enjoyment.
So, the job of protecting the toads, and the stupid humans who lick them, falls to the National Park Service.
In fairy tales, I know that princesses have been known to kiss frogs to find a prince. That won’t work by licking toads, but because of the hallucinogenic properties of their secretions, you might not know the difference.