Shield toad (Brachycephalus pernix)

GenusBrachycephalus (1)
SizeMale snout-vent length: 12 - 13.3 mm (2)
Female snout-vent length: 14.1 - 15.8 mm (2)

Classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1).

First described as recently as 1998 (2), Brachycephalus pernix is a minute amphibian, barely a centimetre or so in length, with short, robust limbs, a relatively large, rounded head, and a short snout. The body is orange, with black blotches on the flanks and limbs, and the eyes are black (2) (3). The extent of black colouration on the body may vary between individuals, but the basic pattern of orange and black is characteristic and helps distinguish the species from the similar Brachycephalus ephippium, which is uniform orange, and Brachycephalus nodoterga, which is grey (2). Brachycephalus pernix is also distinguished by the absence of a bony shield above the backbone (2) (3), a characteristic of other Brachycephalidae species (4) (5). The head, back and underside of the body are smooth, and the surfaces of the flanks are wrinkled, but, unlike B. nodoterga, the body lacks warts (2). Like other members of the group, Brachycephalus pernix has a reduced number of digits on the hands and feet (5), and the species is also distinguished by the absence of any external trace of the fifth toe (2) (3).

Brachycephalus pernix is known from the location from which it was first described, at Morro Anhangava in the State of Paraná in Brazil, and from Morretes, also in the State of Paraná, Brazil (1) (2) (3). However, it is likely to occur more widely (1).

Recorded in shady areas of Brazil’s Atlantic forest, this species has been found on the forest floor and amongst thick leaf litter, sometimes at 10 to 15 centimetres below the surface (1) (2) (3).

Little is currently known about the biology of this species. It is active by day (2) (3), and is believed to reproduce by direct development, the eggs being laid amongst leaf litter and developing directly into miniature versions of the adult, passing through the tadpole stage within the egg (1) (2) (4) (5). Clutch size is unknown, as are the vocalisations of this species (2) (3). The reduced number of toes is thought to be related to the species’ distinctive habit of walking slowly over the forest floor; indeed, the Latin name, pernix, translates as “good walker” (2).

Although thought to be relatively common within its small known range, there is still very little information on the distribution, status and ecology of Brachycephalus pernix (1). The main threat to the species is habitat destruction, with the Atlantic forest undergoing extensive logging and large-scale clearance for cattle pasture and agriculture (1) (3). In some areas, excessive tourism may also affect Brachycephalus pernix, as visitors trample the forest floor (1), and its habitat is also at risk of forest fires (6).

Although the entire known range of Brachycephalus pernix has been declared a protected area, there is as yet no infrastructure in place. The species is listed as threatened on the Paraná State list of threatened species (1), but there are proposals to uplist it to Critically Endangered (6). Recommended conservation actions for this tiny amphibian include further research, particularly into its distribution, as well as measures to protect its habitat, including forest regeneration, control of visitor numbers, and the marking of trails (1) (6).

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)