Moroccan midwife toad (Alytes maurus)

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Moroccan midwife toad dorsal profile
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Moroccan midwife toad fact file

Moroccan midwife toad description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderAnura
FamilyAlytidae
GenusAlytes (1)

One of just five midwife toad species, the Moroccan midwife toad (Alytes maurus) belongs to a rather remarkable genus in which the male provides the majority of parental care. It is from this unusual behaviour that the common name of Alytes species, the ‘midwife toads’, is derived (3). The Moroccan midwife toad was previously considered to be a subspecies of the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans), as the adult appearance of both species is extremely similar (3) (4) (5). However, it is in fact more closely related to the Betic and Mallorcan midwife toads (Alytes dickhilleni and Alytes muletensis) (3) (5)

Like other midwife toads, the Moroccan midwife toad has a stout body and a rather large head (2) (3). It has long limbs, short, unwebbed fingers and long toes which are webbed at the base (3). The Moroccan midwife toad has large eyes with vertical, slit-shaped pupils (2) (3), and a rounded, flattened tongue (3).

The Moroccan midwife toad is pale to brownish, with small black and brown dots and olive or green spots on the back. It has spots of grey on the throat and chest and the underside is whitish (2) (3). The underarms and ankles have large, reddish warts, while large warts also run in a row from the tympanum along the body to the groin (2) (3). Small glands, called parotoid glands, are also visible as warts on the head above the eyes (2). The female Moroccan midwife toad is typically larger than the male (3).

The tadpoles of the Moroccan midwife toad can be distinguished by the network of pigmented cells apparent on the body, which are arranged in a loose, irregular fashion. The lower jaw of the tadpole has a dark border (2).  

The Moroccan midwife frog produces a short, whistling call which rises briefly at the beginning (6).

French
Crapaud Accoucheur.
Size
Adult snout-vent length: up to 5.5 cm (2)
Tadpole length: 2.4 - 5.6 cm (2)
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Moroccan midwife toad biology

The Moroccan midwife toad is a terrestrial, nocturnal amphibian (3) (6). It spends much of its time in damp underground refuges, close to pools and streams (3), and is most active around dusk and on rainy nights. During the breeding season the male will call frequently from its shelter or from rocks above ground (6)

This species spawns in water (1); however, unlike many frog and toad species, its eggs do not remain in the water and are instead cared for by the male on land. During mating, the male midwife toad will grasp the female firmly in a mating embrace, known as amplexus. The female then produces a long string of eggs, which are fertilised by the male before being wound around the male’s hind legs (3) (8). The Moroccan midwife toad produces up to 60 eggs per clutch and is able to lay 3 or 4 clutches each breeding season (1). The male will often mate with several females during the breeding season, and is typically able carry up to three clutches of eggs at a time (8).

The eggs remain wrapped around the hind legs of the male for approximately a month, during which time the male will frequently shelter in damp refuges or under stones, sometimes visiting pools of water to keep the eggs moist and prevent them from drying out (8). This behaviour also prevents the eggs from being eaten by predatory fish (3). Once ready to hatch, the male will deposit the eggs in water to develop as tadpoles (1) (8).

The Betic midwife toad is also unusual among amphibians in having a powerful defence mechanism against predators. Like other members of its family, the back of the midwife toad is covered in small warts which produce a potent, strong-smelling poison when threatened (3).

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Moroccan midwife toad range

This species is native to Morocco (5), where it is restricted to the wettest areas of the western and central Rif Mountains and middle Atlas Mountains (1) (3) (5) (7). It has an extremely fragmented range and is known from around 20 localities, between elevations of 200 to 2,050 metres (1) (3) (7).

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Moroccan midwife toad habitat

The Moroccan midwife toad typically occurs in humid montane karst habitats, with irregular limestone formations which are characterised by fissures, sinkholes, hollows, pits, caverns and underground streams (1) (3). The adults of this species are generally found in cracks and fissures in rocks, or under stones close to permanent clean, clear water sources such as streams and pools (1) (3).

This species has also been known to occur in rocky areas with bushy, thorny vegetation, in forested habitats comprising mainly pine and oak (5), and in areas dominated by scrub, cork oak and orchards (1) (3)

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Moroccan midwife toad status

The Moroccan midwife toad is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Moroccan midwife toad threats

The main threat to the Moroccan midwife toad is the introduction of the predatory eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) to areas used by the toad for breeding (1) (3) (7). The population of the Moroccan midwife toad in Chaouen is also threatened on a more localised scale by domestic water pollution, which is contaminating water sources in the area used by this species for breeding (1) (3) (7).

Increasing amounts of human activity in the Rif Mountains may be having an impact of some populations of the Moroccan midwife toad, while pressures from domestic animals, deforestation and soil erosion may also encroach on other populations (5).

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Moroccan midwife toad conservation

The threats facing the Moroccan midwife toad are fairly localised, and it is not believed to be seriously threatened. There are currently no known conservation actions specifically targeting this species (1).

The Moroccan midwife toad is known to occur in a number of protected areas (1), including the Jebel Bou Iblane site of bio-ecological interest (5).

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Find out more

Find out more about the Moroccan midwife toad:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Amplexus
The mating position of frogs and toads, in which the male clasps the female around the back or waist.
Fertilisation
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Gland
An organ that makes and secretes substances used by the body.
Karst formation
An area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.
Montane
Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Parotoid glands
A pair of large, external skin glands which appear as swellings on the shoulders, neck or behind the eye of toads and some salamanders. The parotoid glands secrete a toxic, milky substance to deter predators.
Spawning
The production or depositing of eggs in water.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Tympanum
Also known as the eardrum. A thin membrane that transmits sounds from the air to the middle ear.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. African Amphibians Lifedesk - Moroccan midwife toad (October, 2011)
    http://africanamphibians.lifedesks.org/pages/24637
  3. EDGE - Moroccan midwife toad (October, 2011)
    http://www.edgeofexistence.org/amphibians/species_info.php?id=1373
  4. Aguiar Gonçalves, M.H. (2007). História evolutiva dos sapos-parteiros (Alytes spp.) na Península Ibérica. Análise filogenética e filogeográfica, reconstrução de um cenário biogeográfico e implicações taxonómicas. Ph.D. Thesis, Universidade do Porto, Spain. Available at:
    http://www.fc.up.pt/fcup/contactos/teses/t_000399012.pdf#page=21
  5. Donaire-Barroso, D., El Mouden, H., Slimani, T. and Gonzalez de la Vega, J.P. (2006) On the meridional distribution of Alytes maurus Pasteur and Bons, 1962 (Amphibia, Discoglossidae). Herpetological Bulletin, 96: 12-16.
  6. Marquez, R., Francisco Beltran, J., Slimani, T., Radi, M., Llusia, D. and El Mouden, H. (2011) Description of the advertisement call of the Moroccan midwife toad (Alytes maurus Pasteur & Bons, 1962). Alytes, 27(4): 142-150.
  7. AmphibiaWeb - Moroccan midwife toad (October, 2011)
    http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi/amphib_query?where-genus=Alytes&where-species=maurus
  8. Wells, K.D. (2007) The Ecology and Behaviour of Amphibians. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
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Image credit

Moroccan midwife toad dorsal profile  
Moroccan midwife toad dorsal profile

© Stephen D. Busack

Stephen D. Busack
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences
USA
sbusack348@aol.com

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