Outdoors: Toads and violins

Jul 13, 2020

Many years ago, we had faculty member at Interlochen who was a great teacher and fine violinist but who was reluctant to work with Junior campers.

Turns out, she was afraid that they might be hiding toads in their instrument cases.

That  wouldn’t have surprised me. In a way, it’s sort of a tradition.

In an article in National Wildlife Magazine, Donna Johnson wrote, "Seventeenth century Italian violinists kept toads in their cases to improve their performances. Just before a concert, the musicians pulled out their toads and stroked them, believing that the amphibians would keep their hands from perspiring."

Toads have lumps  called parotoid glands behind their eyes and so-called warts (actually glandular swellings) over most of their bodies.

These glands are filled with toxic fluids, which allegedly are vile in flavor and extremely irritating to mouth tissues. These fluids successfully deter most predation.

The belief that toads cause warts is just plain untrue, but according to Johnson, "Silly as toad-rubbing sounds, modern science has shown that Baroque violinists may have been on to something."

Handling toads can cause dry skin.