In a lot of animal species, the story is the same: mom and dad meet, mom lays eggs or gives birth, and dad goes off to find a new mate or look after himself, while mom takes care of the young. Of course, this isn’t the case for all species; some parents don’t look after their young at all, while in others both parents diligently care for their children. And in some species, like the midwife toad, the males take on the responsibility of raising the young all on their own.

There are five species of midwife toad (all of which are actually frogs), in the genus Alytes. They are found in western Europe and northern Africa. They are nocturnal, hiding under objects such as stones and logs or in burrows during the day. To avoid the cold of winter, these frogs burrow underground and hibernate until the nasty months of cold have passed. Midwife toads are mostly terrestrial, heading to water for breeding purposes only.

An Iberian midwife toad. Image by Benny Trapp, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Midwife toads range in size from 3.5 to 5.5 cm, depending on species and gender, with males being smaller than females. Colouration also varies, from brown to quite pale. They are covered in fun reddish warts that make the frogs look nice and bumpy. Midwife toads don’t have highly webbed toes, as they don’t spend a lot of time in the water.

Midwife toads come out of their hidey-holes at dusk to feed, hunting small arthropods such as beetles, caterpillars, spiders and lots of other squirmy fun things. Though they are small frogs, midwife toads don’t have to worry too much about predators, as their warts secrete a nasty toxin that can kill most potential predators.

Breeding season in midwife toads can be anywhere from March to August, depending on where the frogs live. Males spend their nights calling to attract females, who call back if they are pleased with their songs. The two then come together, and the male stimulates the female to lay by stroking her cloaca with his toes. She then lays an egg mass, which the male fertilizes and then wraps around his ankles.

A male midwife toad with eggs on his back. Image by Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is this behaviour that gives the midwife toad its common name. Males carry the eggs on their backs until they hatch, in three to six weeks. They keep the eggs moist by staying hidden in moist burrows, and taking refreshing baths if the eggs get too dry. When the eggs are ready to hatch the male brings them to a nearby body of water, where the  tadpoles stay until they develop into frogs.

Dedication to one’s young is always nice to see, whether it’s from the male parent, female parent, or both. But it’s especially nice to see some species where the males take on the burden of parenthood, simply for diversity’s sake. So kudos to you, midwife toad.

Cover image by Laurent Lebois, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons