The Cane toad, Bufo marinus, also known as the Giant Neotropical, is a large, terrestrial true toad indigenous to northern South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Venezuela, the Guianas and Peru), but has since been widely exported in the 1930s to various islands throughout Oceania and the Caribbean to control sugar cane beetles. It is a member of the subgenus Rhinella of the genus Bufo, which includes many different species found throughout Mesoamerica.
Adult Bufo marinus have a short, squat body with short legs. They are shades of brown, varying from yellow, red, to olive-green, sometimes with spots of white across the back, sides and legs. Bufo are the largest toads, varying from 4-9 inches in length. The females are markedly larger than the males, while the males have more prominent rows of warts. When a toad is attacked, its defense is exuding a milky fluid, (“bufotoxin”), from these warts, which act as an irritant to the mucous membranes of the attacker. There are 2 concentrations of the poisonous glands behind each eye. They are known as parotid glands. These glands are very prominent and are a key distinguishing feature of the species.
The Olmecs, used the Bufo in their funerary practices. Thousands of toads were found in their burial vessels in Seibal, Mexico. The Olmec tribes created images of a toad god of rebirth, eating its own skin. It is reborn by consuming itself, caught in a cycle of death and rebirth, like people, and like the natural world itself. The Mayans were also known to use the toads for ritual (shamanism) hallucinogenic purposes. The Potomam Maya used a drink called Chicha in their rituals. Chicha consisted of sugar fermented with a live toad and toad poisons.
Mayan Shamanism is a set of practices and beliefs that enable communication between mortals and the supernatural world. In the time of the ancient Maya, shamanism was crucial for answering questions pertaining to harvests, lost relatives, warfare, and so much more.
The Spanish conquerors destroyed the whole of Mayan written history except for a few codices (The Codex Borgia is one amazing and complete codex example), and did their best to erase the existence of Shaman and the high place in Mayan society by associating them with the “Devil” and “Pagan rituals.” The Spanish replaced Shaman with the priests that also existed in Mayan society as they tried to convert the Mayans to Christianity.
The toad has been hunted as a food source in parts of Peru, and eaten after the removal of the skin and parotoid glands. The venom was rubbed into people’s skin through cuts and put into their eyes, in order to allow their skills to be received by the “Toad Mother.” These techniques were passed on from generation to generation. The Colombian Choco Indians milked the toads over hot fires, and the Mexican Amerindians used hot rocks to milk the toads, and both groups used the resulting toxins on hunting arrow. More recently, the toad’s toxins have been used in a number of new ways; bufotenin has been used in Japan as an aphrodisiac and a hair restorer, and in cardiac surgery in China to lower the heart rates of patients.
Have you ever heard about the practice of “toad licking”?
The practice of “toad-licking” in the United States started in the 1960’s, when drug users learned of the Bufo toad’s historical role in visionary experiences. This craziness is poisonous beyond comprehension. The toxic compounds are likely to kill you before you could possibly consume enough bufotenine to have any hallucinogenic effect.
A widely held superstition concerned the fabulous “Toad-Stone,” a jewel that was supposed to be found inside the toad’s head. This jewel, placed in a ring or a necklace, would heat up or change color in the presence of poison, thereby protecting the wearer from foul play. In Shakespeare’s play as you like it, the old duke says: “Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”