Small stocky frog with a short head. Males attain a snout-vent length of up to
36 mm, whereas females grow up to 42 mm. The eyes are large and have a vertical
slit-shaped pupil. Parotoid glands are small, and the tympanum is clearly
visible. One or two rows of small, often reddish warts are present on the
upper eyelids. The skin is warty, and a row of large warts extends from the
tympanum to the groin area. Other large gland complexes are present on the
underarms and the ankles. There are two metacarpal tubercles. The limbs are
shorter than in other species of Alytes. The coloration is usually
brownish with more or less pronounced dark spots. Warts are mostly red in
color. The eyes are often connected with a light colored band. The underside
is an unspotted dirty white (Noellert and Noellert 1992).
Males are smaller than females. Other features that distinguish males and females are: distance between nostrils, head width, lower jaw length, vertical diameter of tympanum and tibia-fibula length. These variables should be corrected for the size of the animal (Bosch and Marquez 1996).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Portugal, Spain
Alytes cisternasii is endemic to the Iberian penninsula, inhabiting the south-western
and central parts of this region. Presumably derived from an
Alytes obstetricans-like ancestor, this species has adapted to lower and drier environments, having acquired a more markedly fossorial lifestyle than the two congeneric
species, Alytes obstetricans and Alytes muletensis.
In Portugal, it occupies the whole country south of the Lousa-Estrela mountain
system, extending north through the oriental regions of the provinces of Beira Baixa, Beira Alta and Trás-os-Montes. In Spain, to the north of the Central mountains, Alytes cisternasii is distributed over the provinces of Zamona, Salamanca, Avila, Valladolid, Segovia, and to the south of the Central mountain system, over the regions of Madrid, Guadalajara, Toledo, Caceres, Badajoz, Ciudad Real, Huelva, Sevilla, Cordoba and Jaen (limited in the south-east by the Quadalquivir river).
This amphibian is, generally, associated with xeric environments, with
sclerophyte vegetation of the Mediterranean type - open forests of
Quercus ilex, Q. rotundifolia, Q. suber, - and with brushwood
of Q. coccifera, Cystus ladanifer and C. monspeliensis.
It prefers soils that are not very consistent, usually sandy-granitic,
wherein it buries itself. Especially in the south of its distribution
range, it lives in the vicinity of streams of a temporary nature, which
frequently regress in summer.
In Portugal, the species is predominantly found between 100 and 600m,
reaching its maximum altitude in the Serra de Monchique (Algarve), at
750m. In Spain, although more frequent in low altitudes, it can be found
above 1000m (1200m, Presa de Voltoya, Avila; 1110m, Villacastin, Segovia)
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
These frogs are well known for the parental care behavior of males. The females can
produce up to four clutches per breeding season. Mating season is between
September and March, with its peak in October/November. Males produce
advertisement calls for several hours every night during the breeding season.
The females reply by calling back with a lower intensity than the males.
The following account of the mating behavior of A. cisternasii has been
altered from Marquez and Verrell (1990). A more detailed account can be
The female seeks out the male and presents herself to him. The male grabs the
female in the lumbar region. The female responds by rocking her body
side-to-side. The male pedals with his hind legs against the substratum,
resulting in a vigorous forward-backward movement of the male's body. The
male then rocks his body slightly backward and forward, in a much less
intense way as the pedaling motion. After some time, the male suddenly
constricts the female's flanks. She extends her hind legs and adopts
a posture much like the antipredator "unkenkrampf" (unken reflex) as seen in the genus
Bombina, and ejects an egg mass into the trough between her thighs.
The male then releases his lumbar grip, takes an axillar hold and inseminates
the eggs with a quantity of liquid sperm mass. After 10-15 minutes, the
male distends the egg mass with his hind legs, applies them alternatingly to
his body and extends them again until the strings of eggs are wound around
his ankles. A male can copulate anew and carry up to four clutches around
his legs with a total of 180 eggs or more (Noellert and Noellert 1992).
Eggs are 2.6-3.5mm in diameter directly after laying and grow to 4.3-4.4 mm (likely through uptake of water).
Males keep the egg mass moist by microhabitat choice, or by taking short baths.
The males seek out small water bodies to discard the egg strings with the
hatching larvae. Upon hatching, the larvae are about 13 mm and metamorphose
when they have reached a maximum length of 70 mm, after 110 to 140 days at a
development temperature of 20ºC. Newly metamorphosed toadlets have a
snout-vent length of 2 4mm. Sexual maturity is reached at an age of at
least 2 years.
Trends and Threats
Honnegger (1981) reports that the populations of A. cisternasii
are declining for unknown reasons.
Portuguese populations of A. cisternasii do not seem to be particularly
endangered. In fact, this is one of the most common amphibian species south of
the Tagus River. Similarly, Spanish populations are not, in general, threatened.
However, in some areas, for example around Madrid, the species is a victim of
the accelerated destruction of the Mediterranean forest (Gasc 1997).
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Bosch, J. and Marquez, R. (1996). ''Discriminant functions for the sex identification in two midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans and A. cisternasii).'' Herpetological Journal, 6, 105-109.
Gasc, J.-P. (1997). Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe. Societas Europaea Herpetologica, Bonn, Germany.
Honegger, R. E. (1981). Threatened Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe. Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden.
Marquez, R. and Verrell, P. (1990). ''The courtship and mating of the Iberian midwife toad Alytes cisternasii (Amphibia: Anura: Discoglossidae).'' Journal of Zoology, London, (225), 125-139.
Nöllert, A. and Nöllert, C. (1992). Die Amphibien Europas. Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH and Company, Stuttgart.
Stumpel-Rieks, S. E. (1992). Nomina Herpetofaunae Europaeae. AULA-Verlag, Wiesbaden.
Originally submitted by: Arie van der Meijden (first posted 1999-09-22)
Edited by: Vance T. Vredenburg and Meredith Mahoney (2021-01-26)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2021 Alytes cisternasii: Iberian Midwife Toad <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/1519> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jun 3, 2023.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 3 Jun 2023.
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