Toads, Witches and the Power of Poison at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science


Posted Sun, Oct 4, 2015

Display of a storybook character, Snow White, after being poisoned by an apple

Display of a storybook character, Snow White, after being poisoned by an apple. [Photo: Duane Hirschfeld]

DENVER – Long ago, powerful potions were mixed together by witches for healing or poisoning, and among these was one called the “flying ointment.” Despite its name, it did not include actual flight. Containing opium poppies, it instead induced trances, sleep and stimulating dreams. These are the type of fun facts you may come across during “The Power of Poison” exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

“The Power of Poison is generally about venom and poisonous toxic substances throughout the world,” said Sandy Sauer, a volunteer of 11 years. “There is a section about poisons that are being looked at for medicinal purposes, and there is also a show which talks about arsenic and how that has been used historically.”

Huge, blank book using a projector to create images on page

Huge, blank book using a projector to create images on page. [Photo: Duane Hirschfeld]

Poison Used In Medicine

When extracted in the right doses, poison then converts into medicine and becomes beneficial to people. Scientists and researchers are continuously on a quest for innovative, advanced medicines to deal with rising health threats such as cancer. For instance, the saliva of a vampire bat contains draculin, an anticlotting agent, which could help protect against strokes. Tetrodotoxin, found in white-spotted pufferfish and other marine species, is being tested as a possible new medicine for pain relief. Australian researchers are studying the venom from a Fraser Island funnel web spider for a break-through treatment for breast cancer.

Poison Used As Weapon

Cat Jensen, educator and performer

Cat Jensen, educator and performer. [Photo: Duane Hirschfeld]

The exhibit has an aquarium filled with small, bright-green dart frogs, provided by the Denver Zoo, that are fed a different diet to enable keepers to remove their toxins. In the wild, these cute but deadly creatures enjoy a meal of beetles, centipedes and ants which are typically poisonous. However, dart frogs built an immunity to them. Also, dart frogs were widely used by Embera People as hunting weapons in Central America.

“The toxin is secreted from their skin, and it paralyzes and effectively stops the heart,” said Jan Lyons, volunteer representative. “People will take darts, hold the frogs down and rub the darts along the back of the frog. That toxin will stay on that dart for a year. They can produce enough toxin in one frog to kill 10 humans, and they still use them today as a weapon.”

History of Arsenic

Sandy Sauer, volunteer of 11 years

Sandy Sauer, volunteer of 11 years. [Photo: Duane Hirschfeld]

Another main attraction was an upbeat, lively show hosted by the quirky Cat Jensen, an educator/performer. She hosted a 15-minute show discussing the history of arsenic, how it was discovered and its common use to commit murder at one time. Using guests from the audience in conjunction with a digital projector system, she demonstrated visually the effects of poison on the human body. Additionally, Jensen performed live experiments using various lab supplies.

“Arsenic is an element. In its elemental form, it looks like a semi-metallic rock,” she informed the anxious crowd. “It’s not incredibly toxic until it has been heated with carbon dioxide in which it becomes arsenic trioxide. It becomes a white powdery substance, and in this form, it’s particularly deadly! It’s odorless, tasteless and easy to slip into food.”

Learn More about Poison

If you want to know more about poison, this exhibit can ease that burning curiosity through colorful displays that are both educational and entertaining. However, be quick for this exhibit is not expected to last forever.

“The traveling exhibit is put together by the American History Museum in New York,” Sauer explained, “and at Denver, it will only be around until January.”

If You Go:

What: The Power of Poison

Where: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

When: July 10, 2015 – Jan. 10, 2016

Open Every Day 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Cost: Free with Admission; Admission: $14.95

Parking: Free


About Kavann Tok

Kavann Tok is a freelance Denver-area journalist. Website:

View all posts by Kavann Tok

11 Responses to “Toads, Witches and the Power of Poison at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science”

  1. Mark Goldman Says:

    Your story is very interesting and knowledgeable in regards to learning about the various uses of poisons. I love the frog blurb on how tribes use the “Tree Frogs” poison and how it lasts up to a year.
    Mark Goldman


  2. Mark Goldman Says:

    Keep up the good work. You are a very talented writer.


  3. Mark Goldman Says:

    You are a very talented writer. I love reading your story.


  4. Nicole Ault Says:

    Your story is interesting. You give a good description of various parts of the exhibit. The sidebar is a nice touch, especially for people who are just looking for the information to attend the exhibit.


  5. Kyle Rickert Says:

    The detail in this is great. It’s like a tour through the event, especially with the great use of photos. The only thing I’d add is a little more descriptive language of the sights and sounds of the exhibit. Otherwise, great writing. I had no idea this was in town and now I’m interested.


  6. Haley Black Says:

    Very factual piece. I like the background information you added when explaining the exhibits. The pictures and sidebar make it look very professional and appealing. I’ll have to look into this event!


  7. Andrea Herrera Says:

    The details you give in this article are great and they make you want to keep reading. There are very several interesting facts I did not know of and some that I have heard of before. The article over all in very well structured and it made me want to get up and attend the Nature and Science Museum.


  8. Khaleel Herbert Says:

    Now I have to be very careful not to get on your bad side 🙂
    Great job, Kavann! I really liked the history you gave on poison in your lead.
    I also liked your use of subheads to transition the article smoothly.
    Great use of quotes and I liked the “If You Go” box.

    Spectacular job!


  9. Preston Morse Says:

    Nice job, Kavann!

    Great use of adjectives. Cute, deadly, bright-green, upbeat, lively, quirky… You do a wonderful job of painting a picture for the reader.

    Keep it up!


  10. Linda Linker Says:

    I learned a lot about the poisons. Very interesting article. I love the pictures you created in my mind.


  11. Lonewolf Says:

    Very well written and informative.


Leave a Reply