There are all kinds of myths and urban legends surrounding the harms of human contact with frogs, toads, and the likes of such. These supposed “harms” range from the possible health effects to humans, as well as to the amphibians themselves. But how many of them are actually true, and for the ones that don’t quite make the cut, where the hell did those ideas come from in the first place? Is there any truth to them?
For starters, the most common fear about amphibians, toads specifically, is that they give you warts. The means of which they’re transferred to us have been described as anywhere from touching a toad, to outright kissing a frog! Well, according to dermatologist Jerry Litt, frogs and toads do not carry the wart virus, because rather, it is exclusively a human virus. Specifically, Jeff Benson, M.D. says that warts are actually cased by what’s known as human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a skin cell infection. He also says that the only known carriers of HPV are us humans. However, Litt warns that the wart-like bumps we see on toads, specifically behind the ears, aren’t completely safe, and can cause harms in many other ways, as these glands are meant for infecting and irritating the mouths of predators with poison. The assumption that these wart-like glands were actually warts, combined with the fear that touching warts will transmit the virus (only true in some cases) is what lead people to believe that touching a warty toad would make them warty. Additionally, frogs can also transfer bacteria and diseases to humans that could be fatal if you were not to use a strong antibacterial soap after making contact with them. So while you may not get warts from touching amphibians, you should always make sure your hands are clean afterwards, because they can be harmful.
A common fear of holding amphibians, for the sake of the creatures themselves, is that by holding them, you’ll harm them… In some way. As a matter of fact, there are all kinds of myths that circulate about how you can kill a frog just by holding it, but some of these myths are combinations of assumptions with actual dangers for the creature. While you may not cause a frog psychological damage that’ll make it commit suicide after being held, you could cause it to dislocate a leg, making it helpless and sentenced to death upon release. When you hold a frog too tight, aside from the obvious effects of squeezing it until it literally bursts, it may start kicking in order to escape. This vigorous kicking is what tends to cause dislocations and other injuries for the frog. Of course, many people simply believe that something you do by picking them up causes them so much stress that they stop moving for whatever reason and are left to die, but this is not the case. However, the danger is still there for those inexperienced in handling amphibians! Just maybe not for the reason you think.
Finally, avoid any form of oral contact with amphibians. Contrary to the belief that kissing a frog will turn him into a prince, it won’t, and it might even give you salmonella. The myth obviously comes from popular fairy tales and children’s books, but believe it or not, that doesn’t add any truth to it. All in all, do not try this at home. Or anywhere, really.
So if you’re confident in your ability to hold an amphibian without breaking its legs or failing to fight the temptation to get intimate, you shouldn’t worry about holding most common (and nonpoisonous, of course) frogs, as long as you keep your hands clean!
Jeff Benson, M.D.