In the world of make-believe, kissing a frog could turn him into a prince. In real life, touching them can kill the creatures and cause serious problems for humans too.
April is National Frog Month, and while most people probably know that touching frogs and toads won't give you warts, frogs can transmit diseases. They can give humans tapeworm cysts and salmonella poisoning, said Jeremy Goodman, director of the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, N.J. Both can cause serious complications if not treated immediately, he said.
Human hands have natural salts and oils that can irritate a frog's skin, so handling the animals with dry hands can cause severe problems for them, even death, said Devin Edmonds of Madison, Wis. Edmonds is the author of Frogs and Toads, a handbook for pet owners released in March.
But frogs can be good pets for the right type of person. They don't provide the same type of enjoyment and interaction that you get from a dog, cat or even a parakeet, Edmonds said, but if you like aquariums, you will probably like frogs and toads.
"The most a frog will interact with its keeper is possibly eating a cricket from your hand," Edmonds said by e-mail from Madagascar, where he is working on an amphibian conservation project.
"All toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads," his book explains.
"They are a look-but-don't-touch pet. Keeping them in captivity provides a glimpse into the life and behavior of an animal you may otherwise never get to know," he said.
Some hardy types of frog, like the marine toad and White's tree frog, can tolerate short periods of handling, but it's always good to wet your hands, use a moist fish net or small container, or wear moistened vinyl gloves without powder, Edmonds advises.
Frogs and toads are amphibians that start life as tadpoles. "Their skin is permeable, allowing them to both breathe and drink through it," Edmonds wrote.
Their skin is kept moist by mucous glands. Other glands hold defensive poisons in some species.
"Oriental fire-bellied toads are perhaps one of the best-suited species to captivity," he said, because they are diurnal, active, colorful, hardy and their behavior is so interesting.
"Horned frogs are also a lot of fun to keep and are a great first frog," he said. "They are ambush predators and are essentially structured as giant mouths with eyes that sit on the forest floor waiting for prey to walk by."
There is a bright yellow version that's often called the Pac-Man frog because of its resemblance to the popular video game character.
"I was given one at age 11 and now almost 16 years later he is still alive, eating a worm or two a week and providing an interesting and unusual pet," Edmonds said.
In the wild, frogs rarely live more than a few years. But in captivity, they can live longer than a dog or cat. Edmonds said the record for a captive African clawed frog is more than 20 years and a captive American toad lived to be 36.
Edmonds' book includes 40 species of frogs and looks at their history, how to build the perfect habitat, health care and breeding.