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What Is the Colorado River Toad?

The Colorado River toad can be found in the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico, all of which are located in the American West.
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  • Written By: Soo Owens
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 22 July 2014
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The Colorado River toad, Bufo alvarius, is an amphibian native to portions of northern Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States. It is considered a psychoactive toad, producing hallucinations and other psychoactive effects in people who consume the venom. The venom is employed recreationally or religiously by certain individuals and groups for its hallucinogenic properties.

These toads live in arid and semi-arid environments in the southeast corner of California, the southern half of Arizona, and the southwestern corner of New Mexico. Outside of the U.S., the northern areas of Mexico are also home to a substantial population. The Colorado River toad primarily resides near moisture-rich springs or wells and is a nocturnal creature, eating and moving at night. It relies on small pools of water created during the wet season to reproduce, laying its eggs in these pools.

Compared to other toads, the Colorado River toad is quite large, reaching up to 7 inches (17.8 cm) in length. It is one of the biggest toads native to the U.S. Its skin is shiny and usually a variation of brown to light green. Many people who are unfamiliar with the toad mistake it for a bullfrog because of the similarity in size, color, and skin type. The Colorado River toad eats almost any smaller animal, including mice and lizards.

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All Colorado River toads have venomous glands behind their eyes that are clearly visible on their skin. These glands secrete venom when the toad is in a hostile environment, such as a predator's mouth, and can produce paralysis or even death in smaller animals. Classified as parotid glands, they produce neurotoxin alkaloids that can affect an animal's nerves and central nervous system.

The toad's venom and skin are rich in 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin, alkaloids that contribute to the psychoactive effects with which the Colorado River toad is associated. These can be separated from the toad's venom, purified for human use and then consumed orally, by smoking, or through injection. Hallucination is the intended effect, although the human body reacts in various ways. Recreational use does occur, but the venom's role in religious and medicinal practices have long been recorded.

In 2011, it is illegal to capture a Colorado River toad in California and New Mexico. Both of these states and Arizona consider exporting a toad from the state to be an illegal activity. The toads have been declared endangered in California and threatened in New Mexico. Their overall chances of extinction, however, are at the lowest risk, or least concern, according to their conservation status.

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