There are many things that give people the shivers at the mere thought of having to make contact through touch. Toads, unfortunately, have this reputation. These amphibians are by no means beauty pageant winners with their rough, wart-covered skin. A toad’s untouchable reputation has been fueled by folklore about how people can get warts after touching a toad’s warts. But is this statement true?
The short answer is no, toads do not transfer their warts to humans. Warts that humans develop are caused by Human Papilloma Virus and are spread from direct and indirect human contact. As the name implies, this viral infection is specific to humans and does not come from touching toad warts. But, if contact is made by touching warts on another human, the chance of developing warts is very high.
Toads found in North America belong to the genus Bufo. All of these toads that belong to this genus have thick, warty skin that is actually quite dry to the touch, unlike frogs which have thin, moist skin. These toads also possess two large wart-like glands behind their head that secret a toxin when the toad is in danger. This toxin protects the toad from being eaten by a predator, but it is also highly irritating to humans who may come in contact with it. This toxin will cause a burning sensation on bare skin and is poisonous if ingested.
The myth of getting warts from toads may have stemmed from the real truth of getting a red irritating rash after handling a toad that may have secreted its toxin in self-defense. Before modern medicine, children who handled toads may have gotten very sick, and this myth may have thwarted children from wanting to pick up a toad.
Like other potentially harmful animals, toads should be respected and left alone in their native habitats. Toads serve an important role in the environment by eating insects that may be destructive to plant and animal life. Professionals who handle toads will use protective gloves and nets to safely capture the toads without the risk of coming into contact with the toxic secretion.
If toad warts were the true source of all of the wart infections found in humans, wouldn’t there be fewer wart infections? Most people have never even come into contact with a toad in nature, and it is even less likely they have ever touched a toad. To believe that warts are transferred from a toad to a human is one of those myths that should be put to rest, especially with all of the latest research available on the real cause of warts.
Behler, John L. and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Syracuse: Knopf, 1979.