Western leopard toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus)
|Also known as:||August frog, Cape toad, panther toad, snoring toad, southern panther toad|
|Synonyms:||Bufo cruciger, Bufo pantherinus, Bufo pardalis|
|Size||Length: up to 14 cm (2)|
The western leopard toad is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).
The western leopard toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus) is a large and beautifully patterned toad, marked on the back with striking reddish-brown blotches on a bright yellow background. A pale yellow stripe usually runs down the length of the spine, while the underside is cream coloured, and the top of the head is reddish (2) (3). The skin is rough, and there is a large, distinct, reddish coloured gland, known as a parotoid gland, on either side of the head, behind the eyes (2) (3). The distinctive markings of the western leopard toad are unique to each individual (2).
The western leopard toad can be distinguished from its close relative, the eastern leopard toad (Amietophrynus pardalis), by its more brilliant colouration, larger markings and broader parotoid glands (4). It also closely resembles Ranger’s toad, Amietophrynus rangeri, but the latter has darker, smaller markings and usually only one elongated patch between the eyes, rather than two (2) (5). The western leopard toad is also recognised by its distinctive call, described as a deep, pulsed ‘snore’ (2) (3).
The western leopard toad is restricted to a small area of coastal lowlands in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, where it occurs from the Cape Peninsula eastward to Gansbaii. It is not found more than 10 kilometres inland (1) (2) (3) (6).
The western leopard toad is generally found around large wetlands, coastal lakes and sluggish rivers in lowland fynbos heathland, but also inhabits altered habitats such as farmland, urban gardens and parks. Breeding usually takes place in permanent waterbodies, or sometimes in smaller temporary pools that retain water well into the summer, and the species has a preference for fairly deep, still, open water with floating vegetation (1) (2) (3).
Like most other members of the Bufonidae family, the western leopard toad lives on the ground, and spends most of its time away from water, foraging for a variety of insects and other invertebrates, possibly including snails (2) (3) (7). Toxic secretions from the parotoid glands help to defend the toad against predators, although it may still fall prey to fish, birds, snakes and other toads (2) (7).
The western leopard toad is an ‘explosive breeder’, meaning that all breeding is restricted to short bursts, lasting around four to five nights at a time, rather than occurring continuously across the breeding season. Breeding takes place in spring, between August and October, depending on the rains, and starts with large numbers of toads converging on selected breeding sites, where the males call from areas of vegetation. On finding a mate, the male clasps the larger female from behind, ready to fertilise the eggs as they are laid. Each female produces up to a staggering 25,000 eggs, which are laid in long, gelatinous strings, and hatch into relatively small, dark, bottom-dwelling tadpoles, which feed on algae. After around ten to twelve weeks, the tadpoles undergo metamorphosis, transforming into miniature, one centimetre long versions of the adults (2) (3). The young toads leave the water between October and December (2) (3), but very few survive to maturity, which is reached at around one to three years in males, and two to six in females (2).
Although it may tolerate a degree of habitat alteration, often being found in urban and suburban areas, the western leopard toad is under threat from increased urbanisation, housing development and agricultural expansion within its already limited range (1) (2) (3). Road kills may pose a significant threat, particularly during the breeding season when the toads migrate to the breeding sites (1) (2), and urban development can also increase the physical barriers to such movements (2). In addition, artificial water bodies with vertical sides, such as swimming pools and stormwater drains, can present death traps to toads, while further threats at some breeding sites include pollution and introduced species, such as predatory fish, invasive plants, and captive ducks, which can consume eggs and tadpoles. The replacement of lawns and flowerbeds with stone and paving may also be reducing available foraging habitat (2), and there is increasing concern that the introduced guttural toad, Amietophrynus gutturalis, may compete with the western leopard toad for food and resources (8). An isolated population in the east of the range appears to be most under threat, despite occurring in the least urbanised habitat (9).
The western leopard toad is legally protected within South Africa (2), and also occurs in some protected areas, such as the Agulhas National Park and in the northern parts of Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. However, most of its habitat occurs outside of reserves and is unprotected (1) (2). Fortunately, a number of organisations are working to involve the public and private landholders in the toad’s conservation. In 2007, the Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee (WLT-CC) was formed, and are helping to draft a Biodiversity Management Plan for the species (2) (9). Volunteers help rescue toads from roads during the breeding season, and photographs sent in by the public are being used to monitor the toad population, identifying individuals by their unique markings (2) (5). Genetic studies, radio-tracking, and monitoring of the invasive guttural toad are also underway (2) (5) (8), and local residents have been given advice on making swimming pools safer for toads (2). By raising awareness of urban conservation issues and promoting more ‘ecofriendly’ gardening practices, the conservation of this beautiful amphibian is also likely to benefit a range of other wildlife in the Cape Province (2).
To find out more about the western leopard toad and its conservation see:
The Western Leopard Toad:
For more information on amphibian conservation see:
IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group:
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- Algae: simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
- Fertilisation: the fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
- Fynbos: the natural shrubland vegetation occurring in the southwestern and southern Cape of South Africa, holding the greatest diversity of plant species in the world. Fynbos is characterised by tall shrubs with large leaves, heath-like shrubs, wiry reed-like plants, and bulbous herbs.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
- Metamorphosis: an abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
- 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.
IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
The Western Leopard Toad (January, 2010)
Amphibia Web (January, 2010)
- Eick, B.N., Harley, E.H. and Cherry, M.I. (2001) Molecular analysis supports specific status for Bufo pardalis and Bufo pantherinus. Journal of Herpetology, 35(1): 113-114.
South African National Biodiversity Institute: Western Leopard Toads (January, 2010)
Frost, D.R. (2009) Amphibian Species of the World: An Online Reference. American Museum of Natural History, New York. Available at:
- Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
City of Cape Town (January, 2010)
- Measey, G.J. and Tolley, K.A. (2009) Investigating the cause of the disjunct distribution of Amietophrynus pantherinus, the Endangered South African western leopard toad. Conservation Genetics, published online 20 October 2009.