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Midwife Toads and Painted Frogs: Discoglossidae

Conservation Status

Of the 10 species in this family, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers one as already Extinct, or no longer living, and three others as Vulnerable, which means that they face a high risk of extinction in the wild. It also ranks two others as Near Threatened, which means that they are likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

The Extinct species is the Hula painted frog, which once lived in Israel and possibly Syria. Scientists know about this species from just five specimens, the last of which was collected in 1955. Since then, no other specimens have been found. It probably disappeared as a result of damage to its habitat, especially when people drained the wetlands where it lived in an attempt to wipe out mosquitoes and to turn the swamp into farmland.


One of the Earth's frogs disappeared in the 1950s at the hands of humans. At that time, people in Israel were trying to fight a dangerous, fever-causing disease called malaria (muh-LAIR-ee-uh). The disease spreads through the bites of infected mosquitoes. One of the people's answers was to drain the swamps where the mosquitoes lived. Without water, the mosquitoes would die out, and the disease would vanish, too. The water disappeared, but the mosquitoes were not the only animals affected. The swamps were also home to other animals, including the Hula painted frog. Unlike the mosquitoes, which exist in Israel to this day, the Hula painted frog could not survive the destruction of its home and is now extinct.

The Vulnerable species are the Betic midwife toad and the Mallorcan midwife toad of Spain and the Corsican midwife toad of France. Habitat loss and destruction have hurt the Betic and Corsican toads, while the Mallorcan midwife toad faces threats from new species that have come into its habitat. These new animals, known as introduced species, include a snake and a frog. The snake, called a viperine snake, eats both adult Mallorcan midwife toads and their tadpoles. The new frog, known as the Iberian green frog or Iberian water frog, is taking away food and space from the Mallorcan midwife toad and causing the toad's numbers to drop. By the mid-1980s, conservationists had begun taking steps to protect the toad. In one effort, they have captured some toads so they could breed them in captivity and return the newborn toads to some areas where they had once lived but have since disappeared. This has been very successful, and soon three populations of these reintroduced toads had begun breeding in the wild. Conservationists are now trying to create new watering holes so they can raise and release additional toads in places that are free of animals that might eat them or compete with them for available food.

The toads are doing much better since these efforts began. In 1996, the IUCN considered the species to be Critically Endangered, which meant that it faced an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Just eight years later, in 2004, the IUCN saw such improvement in the toad's numbers that it took the species off the Critically Endangered list and now considers it to be Vulnerable, which means that it is at a lower risk of becoming extinct. The Mallorcan midwife toad is unusual for another reason. Until the late 1900s, scientists thought that it had become extinct 2,000 years ago, and all they would ever see were its fossils. They were stunned in 1980, when they learned of a living population that had turned up in a remote, mountainous area. Shortly after this discovery, however, the invading viperine snakes and Iberian green frogs were already taking their toll on the toads and lowering their numbers.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceAmphibiansMidwife Toads and Painted Frogs: Discoglossidae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Midwife Toad (alytes Obstetricans): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, PAINTED FROGS MIDWIFE TOADS AND PEOPLE