This story first appeared in The outsiderJason Blevins’ premium outdoor newsletter.
In it, he covers the industry inside out, plus the fun side of being out in our beautiful state.
It’s hard to find a warning issued by the National Park Service that has had more traction. Too bad it was completely made up.
The agency’s Oct. 31 Facebook post, which urged visitors to “please don’t lick” the Southwest’s common large Sonoran desert toad, was repeated by thousands of news outlets. Google “valet lick toad” and you’ll get 1.7 million hits. Tens of thousands of news outlets – including the most reputable in the world – repeated the warning.
But a request for records from agency employees detailing all interactions between visitors to the park property and the toads turned up zero records.
The Facebook post “was not prompted by any specific incident,” said Park Service FOIA Officer Charis Wilson, who was visiting staff at the office that created the original Facebook post.
The post described the Sonoran desert toad, also known as the Colorado river toad, as one of the largest toads found in North America, describing its caw as a “faint, low-pitched hoot lasting less than a second.”
“These toads have prominent parotid glands that secrete a potent toxin. Touching the frog or getting the poison in your mouth can make you sick,” the Facebook post said. “As we say with most things you encounter in a national park, whether it’s a banana snail, an unfamiliar mushroom or a large toad with bright eyes in the middle of the night, please refrain from licking. Many Thanks. Blow!”
The post included a motion sensor photo of a toad “staring into your soul” at Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The agency’s tongue-in-cheek post resonated around the world. It was also hearty food for the jesters.
“A more honest headline would be the National Parks Service throws up their hands and says, ‘I think we really need to say this out loud, stop licking the frogs, ya Dinguss,'” Stephen Colbert said during his monologue at the Late Show on November 10th. “As you can imagine, these nature-loving jerks lick these frogs to get high.”
The Colorado Sun earlier this month sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Park Service, asking for any notes or reports describing “any human interaction” with the Sonoran desert toad that secretes a psychoactive compound that , when dried and smoked, induces a psychedelic experience. If the park service was forced to warn visitors of the dangers of the toad, surely rangers had documented a fair number of toad-molder crimes. Unfortunately there aren’t any.
There are no records from any of the Park Service’s 13 properties in and adjacent to the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest that detail humans chasing, catching, touching, or licking the toads. The agency’s Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System has no record of visitors ever having bothered toads. So it was essentially a joke.
“Rather, it should convey a general message through humor not to mess with any wildlife you encounter in the park,” Wilson said in an email to The Sun.