Tag Archives: amphibians

Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico

  • English: Iberian spiny toad
  • Scientific: Bufo spinosus
  • Spanish: Sapo común Ibérico
  • Basque: Apo
  • Catalan: Gripau comú
  • Galician: Sapo común
  • Aragonese: Zapo común
  • Portugese: Sapo comum
  • Distribution: Iberian Peninsula and southwestern France (north to about Caen and about Lyon; an isolated population on the Isle of Jersey (United Kingdom); northwestern Africa in the northern mountains of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
  • Species name changes: The common toad was first given the name Rana bufo by the Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae in 1758. In this work, he placed all the frogs and toads in the single genus Rana. It later became apparent that this genus should be divided, and in 1768, the Austrian naturalist Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti placed the common toad in the genus Bufo, naming it Bufo bufo. The toads in this genus are included in the family Bufonidae, the true toads. Various subspecies of B. bufo have been recognized over the years. The Caucasian toad is found in the mountainous regions of the Caucasus and was at one time classified as B. b. verrucosissima. It has a larger genome and differs from B. bufo morphologically and is now accepted as Bufo verrucosissimus. The spiny toad was classified as B. b. spinosus. and is found in France, the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb. It grows to a larger size and has a more spinier skin than its northern counterparts with which it intergrades. It is now accepted as Bufo spinosus. The Gredos toad, B. b. gredosicola, is restricted to the Sierra de Gredos, a mountain range in central Spain. It has exceptionally large paratoid glands and its colour tends to be blotched rather than uniform. (However, It is now considered to be Bufo spinosus as well).

The Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico is a member of a large genus of so-called “true toads” traditionally found worldwide, although some authorities have now separated the Old World species from the New.


A relatively large toad with a total maximum length of about 21cm, though males are rather smaller at 9-10cm and the average female is 15cm. The head is longer than wide, with a short rounded snout, and the area between the eyes is either flat or concave. The tympanum is barely visible, measuring about half the diameter of the eye. The fingers are short, the third being the longest, followed by the the first and then the second and fourth, these latter two being of equal length. There are two tubercles on the palms. The toes are relatively long and flattened.

In coloration the adult Iberian spiny toad is usually a brownish colour, but there is variation, especially in the southern part of its range. Colour variations include sand, brick-red, dark brown, grey and olive, as well as darker marks against the overall tone. The underside is whitish or grey, often with a marbled effect. The eye is copper or gold.

Bufo spinosus can be distinguished from the Natterjack toad – Bufo calamita (also present in Iberia) normally by the color of the eyes (normally red in B. spinosa and yellow in B. calamita) but also by the shape of the paratoid glands. (Look to the rear of the eyes). There may be a raised area on both sides of the head containing pore-like openings. These areas are known as the parotoid glands. Not only can their presence be a key to the species, but also their shape, since in some species the gland area is straight and in others bent inwards. In Bufo spinosus these are kidney-shaped, bending inwards somewhat in the middle, while in Bufo calamita they are straight, being further apart at the front than at the back. Bufo calamita normally also has a thin yellow stripe down the back which is lacking in Bufo spinosus. (Bufo calamita also goes by the scientific name of Epidalia calamita).

Iberian common toad - Bufo spinosus - Sapo comun Ibérico

LEFT: Iberian common toad – Bufo spinosus in water. RIGHT: Natterjack toad – Bufo calamita. (Note the yellow eye)

Diet of the Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico

Like most European amphibians the Iberian spiny toad feeds on a variety of invertebrates. In Spain, beetles, ants, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, grasshoppers and related insects have been cited as part of its diet, as well as occasionally rodents (presumably mice, voles or similar small species), a reminder that these toads are relatively large. (However one observer states that they do not eat slugs as they probably don’t taste very nice? 🙂 ).


The toad is normally a nocturnal animal, although it can be found out and about in the open during wet weather or in the breeding season.

I once encountered a pair in amplexus by the stream in rainy weather during the daytime (picture further down the page), the pair making little or no attempt to move. (Amplexus = The copulatory embrace of frogs and toads, during which the male fertilizes the eggs that are released by the female).

Unlike frogs, toads rarely hop but prefer to walk.

They have two effective anti-predator devices: bufotoxin, a white milky substance which is secreted via the paratoid glands behind the eyes and which is extremely distasteful (and sometimes poisonous) to many predators, and the defensive pose in which they stand erect on their limbs and swell their bodies up to make themselves appear much bigger. This defence may be especially useful against the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) since this species of snake does not seem to be affected by bufotoxin.

Bufo spinosus has a winter rest period from October-November until February-March. Most spend this period on land rather than in water.


During the breeding season, males arrive first at their home ponds/rivers and can remain for some weeks (3-28 nights) whereas the females may make just a short visit (3-6 nights) to find a mate and lay their eggs. Mating itself is a rough-and-tumble affair. Since males usually outnumber females by four or five times they must fight for mates and often end up clasping different species, fish or even inanimate objects, or else several home in on one female and form a breeding “ball”.

Iberian common toad - Bufo spinosus - Sapo comun Ibérico

Note the copper/red coloured eye of these mating Iberian Spiny toads.

Males clasped by other males have a special “release call” to notify the offender of his mistake! Needless to say this level of competitive activity is stressful for all the participants, and toad mortality is quite high as a result. Females lay 3,000-8,000 eggs in two strings which they lay simultaneously over the course of up to several hours, depositing these on aquatic vegetation often in places where there is good sunlight.

The eggs develop within 2-3 weeks and the resultant tadpoles form large swarms. At metamorphosis they are 7-12mm long and more diurnal than the adults.

Iberian common toad - Bufo spinosus - Sapo comun Ibérico
Iberian common toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico – With a tail and tiny back legs.

The breeding season varies according to range. In Portugal it lasts between November and April but lasts until June in the high mountains of the Sierra de Gredos.

Sexual maturity also varies with latitude, taking 3-7 years in northern Europe but in Iberia 3 years for males and 4 for females. Occasionally hybrids of Bufo spinosus and Bufo calamita can be found but they are thought to be sterile as no breeding of the hybrids has ever been observed.

Threats to the Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico

Like all amphibians it is faced with the threats of habitat loss, chemical pollution and, more seriously, long-term climate change. As a species it has often been persecuted in the past by humans, partly because of a cultural association with its use by witches.

Despite the bufotoxin to deter casual predators, Bufo spinosus is also preyed on by various birds of prey (eagles, buzzards, kites, and owls) and the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).

The toad fly Lucilia bufonivora also causes depredation by laying its eggs on the toad’s back. The ensuing larvae migrate to the nasal cavities of the toad and feed on the tissues in this area, causing the death of the host within 2-3 days.

One recent study estimates that adult populations have a complete turnover of 4-5 years, ie a loss/death rate of up to 25% of adults each year.

Iberian spiny toads are noted for their migrations towards their home ponds, a process which may begin in the autumn but which peaks in spring. At this time they are most vulnerable to road traffic, which in the past has taken a high toll.

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Iberian Water Frog – Pelophylax perezi – Rana común

  • English: Iberian Water Frog
  • Scientific: Pelophylax perezi
  • Spanish: Rana común
  • Portuguese: Rá-verde
  • Distribution: All of Iberia

The Iberian Water Frog – Pelophylax perezi – Rana común is rarely very far from water, they will inhabit lakesides, ponds, slow rivers, canals, marshes, moors, rice fields, man made water deposits and troughs up to an altitude of 2,400m. They will often sit at the waters edge and hop in if disturbed. They are active both day and night though most vocal in the evening.

Iberian Water Frog - Pelophylax perezi - Rana común
Iberian Water Frog – Pelophylax perezi – Rana común

The Iberian Water Frogs are from 35 – 90 mm in body length, (occasionally reaching 100mm) with the females being the largest. Their colour variation is huge, covering many shades of greys, greens and browns, sometimes with darker blotches and with warts or smooth. The underside is off-white occasionally bearing brown / charcoal speckles.

They often have a central dorsal stripe of a pale colour beginning at the tip of their long pointed snout. The eyes consist of a horizontal pupil surrounded by a golden colour, just behind the eye on the males is a visible vocal sac. The dorso-lateral folds are very visible and can be of a differing colour to the main body. The hind legs are quite long with the heel reaching past the eye. The fore feet have four toes, the hind feet five with well developed webbing.

Iberian Water Frog - Pelophylax perezi - Rana común
Iberian Water Frog – Pelophylax perezi – Rana común

This species of frog can hibernate in the water or on land. If seen away from water this is generally the younger ones.

These frogs feed on insects, spiders, small fish plus other amphibians. The tadpoles feed mainly on vegetation and ants but also eat micro-organisms.

Breeding may be over an extended period. Firstly the female selects a male by his ability to sing. The eggs are fertilized by the male as they leave the female. Each egg is around 6 to 8mm and laid in clusters of from 800 to 10,000.

Iberian Water Frog - Pelophylax perezi - Rana común
Iberian Water Frog – Pelophylax perezi – Rana común – This is a male with the vocal sacs inflated.

The emerging tadpoles measure about 4 to 6 mm long when they first hatch, reaching a size of about 50 to 70 mm long. The tail is deepest in the centre and tapers to a point. The body and tail are a speckled and blotched golden brown colour with a paler, whitish underside.

The time it takes them to metamorphose depends on the water body that they are in and the time of year. If the water is shallow and poorly oxygenated with a risk of drying up they will develop more quickly into tiny froglets. Conversely if the eggs hatch at the end of summer and there is plenty of water, they can over winter as tadpoles which reach a greater size before changing.
The maximum life span for an Iberian Water Frog is about 10 years and they reach their sexual maturity in their second year for the males, third year for females.

More reptiles and amphibians of Spain here.

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Pygmy (marbled) newt – Triturus pygmaeus – Tritón pigmeo

  • English: Pygmy (Southern Marbled) Newt
  • Scientific: Triturus pygmaeus (Triturus marmoratus)
  • Spanish: Tritón pigmeo (Tritón jaspeado)
  • French: Triton pygmée
  • German: Zwerg-Marmormolch
  • Italian: Tritone pigmeo
  • Portuguese: Tritão-marmoreado-pigmeu


The Pygmy (marbled) newt – Triturus pygmaeus – Tritón pigmeo was traditionally considered a subspecies of the marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus), although recent studies have shown that morphological and genetic differences between the two, are significant enough to be considered distinct species.

the pygmy newt has a total length of about 13cm (5 inches), a base colour of deep green mottled with black/brown blotches spread over the body.

The head is flattened, with a broad and rounded snout. The eyes have a black round pupil and gold iris. Their limbs are long, front feet with 4 digits and 5 on the hind feet, without webbing. The tail, which is longer in males, is flattened laterally and ends in a point.

The Pygmy (marbled) newt - Triturus pygmaeus - Tritón pigmeo was traditionally considered a subspecies of the marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus)
The Pygmy (marbled) newt – Triturus pygmaeus – Tritón pigmeo was traditionally considered a subspecies of the marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus)

The females are larger and have an orange or yellowish vertebral line also seen in sub-adults of both sexes. In mating season the male has a tall, upright dorsal crest extending along the tail, during its land living phase this is reduced to a dark spinal ridge.

Habitat and diet

This newt occurs only in southern Portugal and southwestern Spain. The Douro and Tagus rivers form a narrow, northern border to its range where it is then replaced by Triturus marmoratus (marbled newt)

Its natural habitats are woodlands of oak and cork oak, Mediterranean scrub, near ponds, wells, slow streams and irrigation pools. It is crepuscular and nocturnal.

When living away from water they take refuge under rocks, logs and leaf litter.

The diet of adults is based on insects and their larvae, isopods, annelids and arachnids. The larvae hunt small insect larvae, crustaceans and larvae of other amphibians.

The Pygmy (marbled) newt - Triturus pygmaeus - Tritón pigmeo was traditionally considered a subspecies of the marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus)
The Pygmy (marbled) newt – Triturus pygmaeus – Tritón pigmeo was traditionally considered a subspecies of the marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus)

Breeding habits

The breeding season begins with the autumn rains, around November. After a courtship display worthy of being watched, the female will pick up a packet of sperm (spermatophore) that the male leaves close to her and after several days she deposits between 150 and 350 fertilised eggs. These are individually attached to aquatic plants. The larvae hatch in around 10-15 days, depending on water temperature, and normally complete their development before the end of May.

Its main defence mechanism, like many amphibians, is the production of a milky toxic secretion through the skin.


As with many amphibians, habitat is being degraded by river pollution and the loss of temporary water bodies through land drainage. The introduction of crayfish and non-native fish also has a negative impact on populations. For these reasons, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its status as being “near threatened”.

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Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) Salamandra Común

  • Scientific: Salamandra salamandra (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • English: Fire Salamander
  • Spanish: Salamandra común
  • Portuguese: Salamandra-comum
  • Distribution: Mainly northern, western and southern Spain (excluded from many of the central and eastern areas), all of Portugal, as well as northern Europe as far as north Germany, all of Italy and much of the Balkans and eastern Europe.

The fire salamander is so striking in appearance that in Iberia it cannot be mistaken for anything else, at least in its usual glossy coloration of yellow on an overall black background. There are many variations on this colour scheme (see the subspecies accounts below).

The head is wide and somewhat flattened, the snout short and either rounded or tapering to a point. Gland openings (the so-called parotids) are present behind each eye in a kidney-shaped arrangement, and along each side of the vertebral column is a further row of pores, with another row of glandular protuberances running along each side of the body. The throat has a sort of pleat (the gular fold).

Adult fire salamanders can reach an average of 20cm length, although a maximum of 25 cm (S. s. crespoi) is known. The tail makes up half or less the total length. They are somewhat more solid in appearance than newts. The female tends to be the larger, while males have a somewhat more swollen cloaca (the anal and reproductive aperture where the tail joins the body).

The species is found in northern areas of Spain and Portugal including Catalonia, Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, Castilla y León, Galicia and the Pyrenees, where they are present up to 2,400m.

Although widespread across Europe, the fire salamander does have certain habitat preferences. High temperatures and dryness are both avoided, so that the central Iberian populations are found in the cooler mountain areas rather than at sea level. In fact temperatures of over 70 deg F (20 deg Celsius) can be fatal to fire salamanders, which although they cannot swim very well, will take to a comfortable level of water in order to stay cool enough for survival.

In the north of Spain they commonly found in moist deciduous forests, and in some areas may live underground. Some Catalonian populations were reported in caves systems at about 100m depth so it is not unknown for salamanders generally to live in caves or similar subterranean locations such as cellars or old mines. Other than this, Spanish fire salamanders may be found in Mediterranean woodland, scrub or among rocks around lakes.

Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) Salamandra Común
Fire Salamander (Salamandra longirostris) Salamandra Común (photo taken in Cádiz province

The key factor is that they are never far from water as their lifecycle is dependant on it.

Like toads, fire salamanders can deter predators by secreting or even squirting a white noxious substance from the parotid glands on top of the head. The bright yellow and black coloration is in fact a warning to predators that the creature can be noxious. A recent German study concluded, however, that the main purpose of the toxins in fire salamanders was to protect the skin against infection and micro organisms.

Patterns of activity vary with location and altitude. In lowland Galicia the fire salamander is active most of the year except for coldest winter, whereas in the Pyrenees it is limited to the months of February or March until October or November. Fire salamanders are largely nocturnal, leaving their hiding places when darkness falls and only returning at daybreak. However they can also be found occasionally in the daytime after and during rainfall. Although they prefer coolness, if the temperature drops below 5 deg C they tend to remain in their refuges.


Their diet is not particularly remarkable, consisting mainly of insects, gastropods (snails and slugs), aquatic worms, centipedes and spiders. Their sedentary lifestyle does not require a great deal of food, and the salamanders tend to remain within a fairly modest sized territory for all of their adult life, the main exception being when females travel to water sources to give birth, after which they return.

For the winter S. salamandra either buries itself under soil and leaves or takes refuge in underground locations.

Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) Salamandra Común
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) Salamandra Común


Courtship takes place in April to May during the night. The male carries the female around on his back for a while and then deposits a spermatophore, essentially a packet of sperm, which the female then lowers herself onto. This can be retained for a long time, being effective up to 18 months after being received.

Usually the birth of the larvae takes place 6-9 months later into water, but there are variations on this theme. Whereas most subspecies usually produce anything from 8-70 small greyish larvae (2½-3½cm long), in a few cases eggs are laid, while S. s. bernadezi and S. s. fastuosa may bring much fewer (2-8) but fully-developed and metamorphosed individuals into the world. Metamorphosis of larvae not born in this manner is also very variable, from 2 weeks to 2 years, depending on subspecies, location, temperatures and food availability.

Sexual maturity is reached in 2-4 years.


Despite their fragility to heat, Fire Salamanders can be long-lived. A 1969 paper recorded a northern individual that had been kept in captivity for 43 years in Germany. Another source suggests that in the wild upward of 20 years may be normal.


Although abundant in much of Europe, the fire salamander faces the same conservation challenges as many other amphibians, namely the pollution or disappearance of water sources and degradation of its habitat in lowland areas, eg the replacement of natural woodland by spruce monoculture in some countries.

Climate change and an increase in average temperatures will also adversely affect this species, which is quite sensitive to heat.

Because of their defensive behaviour they are less subject to predation than many other amphibians, but even so are preyed upon by some birds, mammals and snakes, including the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei).

Subspecies distribution

Geographic location is the key to identifying the subspecies of Salamandra salamandra
  • Salamandra alfredschmidti is rather an odd one out, having overall dirty yellow or brownish patterns and tending to lack or have greatly reduced stripes. It is also smaller than most subspecies. It is currently only known from the Rio Tendi and Marea valleys in Asturias, and was only described in 2006.
  • Salamandra almanzoris is another small subspecies found only among the glaciers and mountains of the Sierra de Gredos. The yellow markings are sparse or almost absent, and the tail rather laterally compressed, particularly in the females. Its lifestyle is more aquatic than other subspecies.
  • Salamandra bejarae is found in central Iberia including Salamanca and the Toledo mountains, but is absent from the Sierra de Gredos. The yellow appears to take the form of isolated patches rather than being joined up. Spots may be partially reddish or brownish.
  • Salamandra bernadezi is the subspecies found in Asturias and north and east Galicia. Coloration is variable, but two schemes are notable: either the yellow is so prominent that the black is reduced to a broad dorsal and lateral stripe, or else the body is totally black and the head a bronze colour. Joined up spots may also be red. At least some of this subspecies give birth to fully metamorphosed live young (see Breeding above).
  • Salamandra gallaica is distributed across most of Portugal and also in Galicia, León, Catalonia and the Cantabrian mountains. There are several colour phases, some of which have wine-red markings on the body, especially near the head, while the spots are generally dull.
  • Salamandra crespoi replaces S. s. gallaica in the extreme south of Portugal ( the Algarve) and is distinguished by having rather finer markings consisting of many small jagged spots, plus relatively shorter limbs but a larger overall size.
  • Salamandra fastuosa is found in northern Spain and the Pyrenees. The yellow pattern takes the form of two dorsal longitudinal stripes running from the top of the eyes to the tip of the tail, plus two yellow stripes running along the edge of the belly and a number of bars or hoops on the limbs.
  • Salamandra hispanica is known only from the Montseny area of Barcelona, and may in fact be simply a variation of a non-Iberian subspecies, S. s. terrestris, which is found in adjacent France and northern Europe. The patterning of both is yellow patches (not joined) on a black background.
  • Salamandra longirostris is distinguished mainly by its rather triangular and pointed snout. It is distributed across Cadiz and Malaga in the far south of Spain. Usually it has a spot over each eye and one over each parietal gland in addition to others on the rest of the body.
  • Salamandra morenica is found in the Sierra Morena mountains of southern Spain and Portugal. The markings are more rounded and not elongated or joined, with wine-red coloration mostly on the head.

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