The Strategypage is a comprehensive summary of military news and affairs.
March 30, 2023

"Eye Of Newt And Toe of Frog": Biotoxins in Warfare


David W. Tschanz

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil & bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting
Lizard's leg & howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.
Macbeth  Act IV, Scene 1


Most persons familiar with the witches scene from Macbeth treat these lines as little more than nonsense rhymes meant to portray insanity.  But the witches who dabbled in these recipes were not as crazy as they might appear. The poison produced by certain frogs, known as betrachotoxin and used by Colombian Indians to tip blow gun darts, is 25 times deadlier than cobra venom. The lowly newt produces tetrodotoxin, another poison of awesome potency.  A brew made from the eye of newt and toe of frog, properly devised by a well-informed old crone, could quickly dim the roving eye of a feudal swain or forever alter the destiny of a medieval prince or dynasty.

Much has been written about biological warfare.   But some diseases, like botulism, are often considered weapons of biological or bacteriological warfare along with anthrax and other living organisms that reproduce.  But death is caused by the chemical poisons that the organisms secrete.  These toxins are not living things. They cannot reproduce. Naturally occurring, they cannot be grouped with the synthetic poisons of the industrial age -- phosgene, mustard agent, or nerve agents that form the basis of chemical warfare.   But their potential in warfare is real and they can and have been used.

The world is a cornucopia of poisons.  Mankind is surrounded by other living creatures that produce chemical substances that can kill him.  Even the most innocent of decorative house plants --such as the colorful croton-- can be a deadly killer. Ricin, the poison produced by castor beans (used to make castor oil), is nearly one hundred times as deadly as cobra venom. Oleander can bring on death within a few short hours.  These are only a few.

Primitive man gained his knowledge of poisons simply by observing the casualties from eating certain animals or plants, or their roots, nuts, berries or juices.  They extracted these substances to stun or kill fish, or to tip their arrows before hunting as with curare in the Amazon.

Many of these primitive concoctions for hunting, combat or ritual, have been chemically reproduced.  Curare, in small doses, has a medical value as it can relax the muscular system without damage.  Ancient man found other natural poisons useful in producing intoxication, visions or abortions when applied in controlled quantities.  Some were used in religious rituals, Inca sacrificial victims were given cocoa leaf to chew to deaden their sense to the numbing cold at 20,000 feet.  Others included opium, strychnine, caffeine, atropine, digitalis and ergotamine.  For magical visions, pain-killers or group therapy there was a choice of nightshade, henbane, mandrake, thorn apple, marijuana, betel nut, peyotl and assorted mushrooms. Other nuts, roots, berries and juices were especially useful for suicide, murder and ritual trial (the accused was forced to swallow a potion or chew a twig and guilt or innocence was determined by whether he or she died).

Not much more than a century ago, less in some areas, everyone was familiar with folk poisons to some extent or knew someone who was. In 1895, the fourth edition of John Reese's Text-book of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology stated that poisoning was still "the most frequent of all the causes of violent death, the casualties of war excepted." As Western societies became more urbanized, people became estranged from their traditional close association with plants and animals, except as pre-packaged groceries and ornamentals shrubs. Sources of poisons were lost or forgotten, or buried in the back of most people's mind. The poisons produced by herbs, fungi, reptiles, amphibians and marine creatures not only live on in murder mysteries but in the military plans of the past and present.

Bacterial Toxins
Trichothecenes or T2 toxins
Other Toxins
Biotoxins in Warfare
Plague of Athens
Xenophon, Pompey and the Honey Of Trabzon
Yellow Rain?
Biotoxins as An Assasin's Weapons
The Strange Case of Reinhard Heydrich
The Men with the Bulgarian Umbrellas
Biotoxins As Weapons: Potentials & Realities
As a Terrorist's Weapon
As a Weapon of Mass Destruction
Appendix: Famous & Infamous Victims of Poison


© 1998 - 2023 All rights Reserved.,, FYEO, For Your Eyes Only and Al Nofi's CIC are all trademarks of
Privacy Policy