Western leopard toad

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by CapeNature

Western Leopard Toad

COMMON NAME
Western leopard toad
Westelike luiperdskurwepadda

SCIENTIFIC NAME
Amietophrynus pantherinus

CONSERVATION STATUS
Endangered

IDENTIFICATION
This beautiful South African toad can reach an impressive size of 140 mm in body length and, like all toads, has a rough skin and a large parotid gland behind each eye. Its upper body has chocolate to reddish-brown patches on a bright yellow background, and there usually is a yellow stripe running down the middle of the back. The underside is granular and cream coloured, with a darker throat in males. The eyes are relatively large with horizontally elliptical pupils. The advertisement call of the males (heard at breeding time) is a deep snoring sound repeated every few seconds, and in chorus sounds like a tractor or motorcycle engine. The western leopard toad is very similar to a near relative, the eastern leopard toad (Amietophrynus pardalis), but they are separated by a distance of more than 200 km. They also differ in that the eastern leopard toad is a more widespread and less threatened species, that mainly occurs in the Eastern Cape.

HABITAT
These toads mostly occur in sandy coastal lowlands but also venture into valleys and onto mountain slopes. They spend most of their time away from water, even venturing into suburban gardens, but are seldom found more than a few kilometres from their breeding habitat in generally permanent water bodies. These water bodies include sluggish rivers, lakes, vleis, pans and dams. The breeding site is usually associated with areas of deep, still water, more than 50 cm deep, interspersed with patches of aquatic plants and stands of emergent vegetation such as bulrushes.

LIFE HISTORY
These toads are most active during the period from late July to September, but especially during August, when large numbers of adults congregate in water bodies to breed. The males call at the breeding site to attract females and, while in amplexus (mating), the female lays thousands of eggs in gelatinous strings. The development of the eggs into tadpoles and then into baby toads (metamorphosis), takes more than 10 weeks. The tiny 11 mm long toadlets leave the water in October-December in their thousands. However, very few of them reach adulthood and most fall victim to predators and other threats. Like all toads, western leopard toads devour many insects and are useful pest controllers.

DISTRIBUTION
This species is endemic (restricted) to the coastal lowlands of the south-western Cape, with a distribution range that extends from the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats to the Agulhas Plain. Furthermore, this species has a fragmented distribution and has not been recorded from the middle part of its distribution area (Pringle Bay to Hermanus) in recent years.

THREATS
The western leopard toad is threatened throughout most of its range by general development and habitat degradation.

Specific urban threats:
• Habitat loss and fragmentation – restricts the foraging area and movement of toads, and can lead to the isolation and loss of populations and breeding sites.
• Road traffic – results in the death of hundreds of toads each year, especially during the breeding season when they migrate to and from breeding sites;
• Drowning in water bodies with vertical sides, such as swimming pools and canalized rivers;
• Barriers such as walls, embankments and canals restrict the movement of toads.

Specific threats at some breeding sites:
• Pollutants in water;
• Introduced predatory fish (such as barbel);
• Invasive floating plants and reedbeds – reduce and degrade toad breeding habitat.

CONSERVATION
The distribution and conservation status of the western leopard toad is monitored by CapeNature.
This species is protected by the Nature Conservation Ordinance of the Western Cape Province. For example, it is illegal to collect and translocate this species.
Western leopard toads occur in some protected areas such as Table Mountain National Park, Zandvlei Nature Reserve, Rondevlei and Zeekoevlei nature reserves, and Agulhas National Park.
The monitoring of the Cape Peninsula/Cape Flats toad populations is carried out by various nature conservation organisations and local volunteer groups under the supervision of the Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee. In particular, volunteer groups help toads across busy roads when they migrate to and from breeding sites.
A Biodiversity Management Plan is being compiled for this species. The public is continually made aware of this species through the media, magazine articles, signboards, websites, etc. For further information, refer to: www.leopardtoad.co.za

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