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Midwife Toads and Painted Frogs: Discoglossidae

Midwife Toad (alytes Obstetricans): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The midwife toad is a small, plump toad that sits low to the ground. Its tan to gray skin is spotted in black, brown, and greenish colors and is covered with tiny warts. These warts, which often sit in the middle of a dark spot, give the toad a rough look. In addition, a single row of red-tipped warts runs down each side of its back from behind the eardrum and over two larger warts to the hind leg. The two warts, each of which forms almost a ridge behind the eardrum, are called paratoid (pair-RAH-toyd) glands. These glands and the other warts on its back contain poison and help protect the toad from predators, which find that the poison tastes bad. The toad's large head has a rounded snout and big, copper-colored eyes with vertical slits for pupils. Its underside is off-white, often with gray speckles toward the front. The midwife toad has chubby legs and The male midwife toad wraps long strings of eggs around his hind feet and protects them until they hatch. (Photograph by Nuridsany et Pérennou. Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.) no webbing between its toes. Unlike many other frogs that have small, somewhat weak front legs, the midwife toad's forelegs are quite strong. The soles of its front feet have bumps, called tubercles (TOO-ber-kulz). It usually grows to 2.2 inches (5.5 centimeters) long from the tip of its snout to the end of its rump. The males are usually a bit smaller than the females.

Geographic range: The midwife toad is a European species, living in a small area in the Netherlands, in all but the coastal region of Belgium, and in much of Portugal and Spain, as well as France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

Habitat: The midwife toad lives in mountain ponds and slow-moving streams that are filled with water all year long and in nearby hiding places on land. Sometimes, they crawl into mostly bare, sandy soils; beneath small stones as well as large slabs of stone; and inside cracks in walls. All of these spots provide a moist, and at least somewhat warm, shelter for the toads.

Diet: The adults eat various invertebrates, including pillbugs, snails, and different insects.

Behavior and reproduction: During the day, these toads remain out of sight under stones, inside the cracks in stone walls, and in other hideaways where they are shielded from the drying wind and temperature swings. They are also able to use their forelegs to dig head-first into loose gravel and make burrows that they use as shelter. They become active as the sun sets and spend their nights looking for things to eat. They spend the winter in their hideaways, but come out in the early spring to begin mating. The mating season for these toads may begin as early as February in some areas, and it continues through the summer. At night, the male performs his mating call, which is a "poo" sound that he makes once every second or so. He may further prepare a female for mating by tickling her with his toes. They mate with the male on her back and clinging to her waist.

About 10 to 15 minutes after the female lays her strings of eggs, the male scoops them up and wraps them around his legs. He carries them there until they hatch. He may mate with more than one female and sometimes carries as many as 150 eggs at a time. As the eggs grow and become bigger, they look like large dark beads. The male stops now and then to soak the eggs in water. This keeps the eggs moist. When they are ready to hatch in about three to six weeks, the male again hops to the water. There, the tadpoles squirm out of the eggs and into the water. The tadpoles wait until the next spring when they are about 2 to 3.1 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) long to change into toadlets. Over the winter, they usually remain in the water. They are mature enough to mate when they are about 2 years old.

Midwife toads and people: Because of their secretive habits, people rarely see these toads in the wild. Scientists still find them to be fascinating creatures and are especially interested in the male's care of the young.

Conservation status: This species is not considered to be at risk. Conservationists are still watching it closely, however, because some populations of this toad have vanished or are losing numbers. The cause may be habitat destruction and possibly the introduction to the streams of fish that prey on the toads. ∎

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