Colorado River toad

From The Lycaeum
Jump to: navigation, search
Colorado River toad
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Bufonidae
Genus: Incilius
Species: I. alvarius
Binomial name
Incilius alvarius
Girard in Baird, 1859
File:Bufo alvarius distribution.svg

Ollotis alvaria (Frost, 2006)
Bufo alvarius (Girard, 1859)

The Colorado River toad (Incilius alvarius), also known as the Sonoran Desert toad, is a psychoactive toad found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Its skin and venom contain 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin.


File:Buf alva.jpg
Range of Incilius alvarius in the United States (it also inhabits northwest Mexico)

The Colorado River toad can grow to about 7.5 inches (190 mm) long and is the largest toad in the United States apart from the non-native cane toad (Rhinella marina). It has a smooth, leathery skin and is olive green or mottled brown in color. Just behind the large golden eye with horizontal pupil is a bulging kidney-shaped parotoid gland. Below this is a large circular pale green area which is the tympanum or ear drum. By the corner of the mouth there is a white wart and there are white glands on the legs. All these glands produce toxic secretions. Dogs that have attacked toads have been paralyzed or even killed. Raccoons have learned to pull a toad away from a pond by the back leg, turn it on its back and start feeding on its belly, a strategy that keeps the raccoon well away from the poison glands.[2]

Distribution and habitat

The Colorado River toad is found in the lower Colorado River and the Gila River catchment areas, in southeastern California, New Mexico, Mexico and much of southern Arizona. It lives in both desert and semiarid areas throughout its range. It is semiaquatic and is often found in streams, near springs, in canals and drainage ditches, and under water troughs.[2] It often makes its home in rodent burrows and is nocturnal. Its call is described as, "a weak, low-pitched toot, lasting less than a second."[3]


The Colorado River toad is carnivorous, eating small rodents, insects, and small reptiles and other toad species; like many toads, it has a long, sticky tongue which aids it in catching prey.

The toads generally breed in small rain pools after the summer showers start; it spends approximately one month as a yellowish-brown tadpole before moving onto the land.

Drug use of poison

The toad's primary defense system are glands that produce a poison that may be potent enough to kill a grown dog.[4] These parotoid glands also produce the 5-MeO-DMT [5] and bufotenin for which the toad is known; both of these chemicals belong to the family of hallucinogenic tryptamines. These substances, present in the skin and venom of the toad, produce psychoactive effects when smoked.


Fresh venom can easily be collected without harm to the toad. Use a flat glass plate or any other smooth, nonporous surface at least 12-inches square. Hold the toad in front of the plate, which is fixed in a vertical position. In this manner, the venom can be collected on the glass plate, free of dirt and liquid released when the toad is handled (Most 1984).

State laws

The toads received national attention after a story was published in the New York Times Magazine in 1994 about a California teacher who became the first person to be arrested for possessing the venom of the toads.[6][7] The substance concerned, bufotenin, had been outlawed in California in 1970.[8]

File:Sonoran Toad1.jpg
Toad at night in Tucson

In November 2007, a man in Kansas City was discovered with a I. alvarius toad in his possession, and charged with possession of a controlled substance after they determined he intended to use its secretions to get high.[9][10] In Arizona, one may legally bag up to 10 toads with a fishing license, but it could constitute a criminal violation if it can be shown that one is in possession of this toad with the intent to smoke its venom.[11]

None of the states in which I. alvarius is (or was) indigenous – California, Arizona, and New Mexico – legally allows a person to remove the toad from the state. For example, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish is clear about the law in Arizona: "An individual shall not... export any live wildlife from the state; 3. Transport, possess, offer for sale, sell, sell as live bait, trade, give away, purchase, rent, lease, display, exhibit, propagate... within the state..."[11]

In California, I. alvarius has been designated as "endangered" and possession of this toad is illegal. "It is unlawful to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native reptile or amphibian, or part thereof..."[12]

In New Mexico, this toad is listed as "threatened" and, again, taking I. alvarius is unlawful.[13][14]


  1. Hammerson, Geoffrey and Santos-Barrera, Georgina (2004). Incilius alvarius. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2
  2. 2.0 2.1 Badger, David; Netherton, John (1995). Frogs. Shrewsbury, England: Swan Hill Press. pp. 93–94. ISBN 1 85310 740 9. 
  3. National Audubon Society: Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians
  4. Phillips, Steven J. and Wentworth Comus, Patricia, ed. (2000). A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. University of California Press. p. 537. ISBN 0-520-21980-5. 
  5. Toxins of Bufo alvarius
  6. "Missionary for Toad Venom Is Facing Charges". New York Times. 20 February 1994. 
  7. "Couple Avoid Jail In Toad Extract Case". New York Times. 1 May 1994. 
  8. Bernheimer, Kate (2007). Brothers & beasts: an anthology of men on fairy tales. Wayne State University Press. pp. 157–159. ISBN 0-8143-3267-6. 
  9. "'Toad Smoking' Uses Venom From Angry Amphibian to Get High". FOX News (Kansas City). 3 December 2007. 
  10. Shelton, Natalie (7 November 2007). "Drug sweep yields weed, coke, toad". KC Community News. Archived from the original on 1 June 2011. 
  11. 11.0 11.1
  12. "Title 14. Division 1. Subdivision 1. Chapter 5., § 40(a)". 
  13. 19.33.6 NMAC.
  14. 19.35.10 NMAC.

Further reading

  • Pauly, G. B., D. M. Hillis, and D. C. Cannatella. (2004) The history of a Nearctic colonization: Molecular phylogenetics and biogeography of the Nearctic toads (Bufo). Evolution 58: 2517–2535.
  • Frost, Darrel R., et al.; Grant, Taran; Faivovich, JuliÁN; Bain, Raoul H.; Haas, Alexander; Haddad, CÉLIO F.B.; De SÁ, Rafael O.; Channing, Alan; Wilkinson, Mark; Donnellan, Stephen C.; Raxworthy, Christopher J.; Campbell, Jonathan A.; Blotto, Boris L.; Moler, Paul; Drewes, Robert C.; Nussbaum, Ronald A.; Lynch, John D.; Green, David M.; Wheeler, Ward C. (2006). "The Amphibian Tree of Life". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 297: 1–370. doi:10.1206/0003-0090(2006)297[0001:TATOL]2.0.CO;2. 

External links

Personal tools

Lycaeum IRC Chat
TheAntiDrug Diaspora
Starting Points