Arabian toad (Bufo arabicus)

Synonyms: Bufo hadramautinus
GenusBufo (1)

The Arabian toad is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Arabian toad (Bufo arabicus) is one of only nine species of amphibian found in the Arabian Peninsula, and by far the most common of the two toad species that occur in the United Arab Emirates (2). The Arabian toad’s body varies in colour, appearing green, tan, brown and even grey, usually with vivid, golden speckling on the upperparts. Other distinctive features of this species include a rounded head and snout, along with small eardrums located behind the large, prominent eyes (2) (3). The female is also significantly larger than the male. The vocalisation of the Arabian toad is a prolonged “krrraaaa”, reminiscent of a creaking door hinge (2).

Endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabian toad occurs in widely separated areas within north-west, central and south-west Saudi Arabia, as well as the offshore Farasan Islands. It can also be found in west and south-central Yemen, north Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The Arabian toad has been recorded from sea-level to elevations of 2,300 metres (1).

The Arabian toad is restricted to areas with surface water, occurring opportunistically wherever these sites occur (1). This species’ natural distribution encompasses mountain regions, where it inhabits springs, as well as permanent and seasonal small rivers, and lowland gravel plains, where it occupies oases. The Arabian toad may also be found in artificial water sources, such as garden ponds and irrigation canals (1) (2).

Active during both day and night, the well-camouflaged Arabian toad can often be found in groups within damp crevices, seeking shelter from direct sunlight. While prey typically consists of insects, during periods of drought small fish which have become trapped in evaporating shallow puddles and cut-off from deeper water may be consumed. Cannibalism is also known to be widespread, with the larger adult toads consuming the smaller juveniles (2) (3).

During extended periods of drought, when surface water sources and moist shelters, such as rock crevices or rodent burrows, are scarce or absent, the Arabian toad will excavate a hollow in the ground. Here it can persist for extended periods by entering a dormant state, analogous to hibernation, known as aestivation. Incredibly, this species’ aestivation periods are believed to last as long as three years. Outside of aestivation, the Arabian toad emerges rapidly from refuges in response to rain or even drizzle, and may form large congregations. The carpet viper (Echis omanensis), which feeds predominantly on toads, also becomes active during this time in order to take advantage of the abundance of prey. Despite the fact that the skin of the Arabian toad, like many Bufo species, produces a noxious chemical, it does not seem to affect native predators, such as snakes and Brandt’s hedgehog (Paraechinus hypomelas) (2).

The Arabian toad breeds opportunistically throughout the year, depositing large numbers of eggs in the form of black, pearl-like strings in any available stagnant or slow-moving water source (1) (2). In temporary habitats, however, breeding takes places following rains, giving the tadpoles a only a short time to develop before the body of water dries up (2).

Although not considered to be globally threatened (1), the Arabian toad’s population in the United Arab Emirates appears to fluctuate significantly according to short-term environmental conditions, such as droughts (2). Little is currently known about this species’ long-term population trend, but given the global decline in amphibians currently taking place, which has been linked to various factors including global warming and pandemic fungal disease, there is some concern that the Arabian toad could be at risk (2) (4).

Currently, the Arabian toad receives protection by virtue of its presence in the Farasan Islands Protected Area, Saudi Arabia (1). Nevertheless, ecological study and monitoring of this species would be beneficial to determine its population size and trend, especially in light of ongoing urban expansion within its range, and the general decline of amphibians worldwide (2).

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2009)
  2. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.
  3. Vine, P. and Al-Abed, I. (1997) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press Ltd, London.
  4. AmphibiaWeb (June, 2009)