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WESTERN LEOPARD TOAD

Scientific name:
Amietophrynus pantherinus (A. Smith, 1828)

Other common names:
Snoring Toad, Leopard Toad, Panther Toad, August Frog, Westelike Luiperdskurwepadda

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Identification Distribution Habitat Life History Conservation Status
Legal Status Threats

Identification

The Western Leopard Toad can reach an impressive size of about 140 mm in body length. Like all toads, it has a rough skin and two large parotoid glands on either side of the head and neck region behind the eyes. It has a beautiful pattern of chocolate to reddish-brown patches with a bright yellow or black edging, on a pink or grey background (although duller individuals are also found). There is usually a yellow stripe running the length of the back between the patches. The underside is granular and cream-coloured, with males having a darkish throat.

Other toad species that occupy its habitat in places, generally have a duller brown to greyish upper surface colouring, covered in darker blotches and smaller markings. These species are: the Raucous Toad (Amietophrynus rangeri); the Sand Toad (Vandijkophrynus angusticeps); and the Guttural Toad (Amietophrynus gutturalis), an introduced species in the Constantia area of the Cape Peninsula. Of these, the Raucous Toad is the most similar, but besides colour and pattern differences, it usually has only one elongated patch between the eyes, instead of the usual two of the Western Leopard Toad. It also does not occur on the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats, which is the best known distribution area of the Western Leopard Toad, but occurs throughout the remainder of the Western Leopard Toad's distribution area.

The advertisement call is a deep pulsed snore that continues for about a second and is repeated every three to four seconds. It can also be described as sounding like a tractor or motorcycle engine, or a very loud "purr". The call is quite different to that of any other frog species in its distribution area, including its nearest relatives. For example, the Raucous Toad makes loud, duck-like quacks, repeated incessantly, and the Guttural Toad has a constantly repeated vibrant snore.

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Western Leopard Toad




Western Leopard Toads each have their own unique markings




Raucous Toad




Raucous Toad

Distribution

The Western Leopard Toad is generally restricted to the coastal lowlands of the southwestern Cape, with a fragmented distribution that extends from the Cape Peninsula southeastwards to the Agulhas Plain, spanning a distance of 140 km. Its distribution also does not extend further inland than about 10 km from the coast and is associated with rivers and large wetland areas.

The earliest distribution records were obtained from the Cape Peninsula and adjoining western part of the Cape Flats (dating back to the 1820s). This area contains the largest known populations of toads and has produced the most distribution records. These include the following localities (alphabetically) in a largely urban environment: Bergvliet, Cape of Good Hope area (KLaasjagersberg, of Table Mountain National Park), Clovelly, Constantia, Diep River, Fish Hoek, Glencairn, Hout Bay, Kalk Bay, Kirstenhof, Kommetjie, Lakeside, Noordhoek, Observatory, Ottery, Philippi, Rondevlei, Scarborough, Southfield, Sun Valley, Strandfontein, Tokai, Zeekoevlei, Valkenberg and some neighbouring areas.

In the coastal region to the southeast, it has been recorded from the Pringle Bay, Bettys Bay, Kleinmond, Hermanus, Stanford, Gansbaai, Uilenkraalsmond and Pearly Beach areas. Further surveys are needed to determine the full eastern extent of its distribution, in the Agulhas Plain to Mossel Bay area.


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Tokai click to enlarge




Noordhoek click to enlarge





Peninsula click to enlarge


Habitat

The Western Leopard Toad is generally associated with sandy coastal lowlands but, in places, also inhabits valleys, mountain slopes and hills adjoining the lowlands. Like other toads, it is wide-ranging and spends most of its time away from water, up to several kilometres from the nearest water body. However, it is always found in the general vicinity of rivers and wetland habitats such as coastal lakes, vleis and pans, in which breeding takes place.

This species is endemic (confined) to the Fynbos Biome, occurring in pristine Fynbos and Strandveld habitats. However, it has also become adapted to living in modified habitats such as farmlands, suburban parks and gardens, and breeding in artificial water bodies. Breeding has even been recorded in somewhat polluted and eutrophic water bodies.

It generally breeds in permanent water bodies, but also in seasonal wetlands that retain surface water well into summer. These can vary from coastal lakes, vleis, pans and sluggish, meandering rivers, that have stretches of relatively deep, still water, to man-made dams and garden ponds. Typical breeding sites have standing, open water, more than 50 cm deep, with scattered patches of aquatic plants and beds of emergent vegetation such as bulrushes (Typha capensis).

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Suburbs click to enlarge

Life history

The Western Leopard Toad is an "explosive breeder". This means that breeding is restricted to short, sporadic bursts of activity, lasting for up to a week at a time, and is not continuous throughout the breeding season. Breeding usually takes place during August, but has also been recorded in late July and in September; and some breeding calls have even been heard in early October. The start of breeding seems to depend largely on rainfall and temperature, and has been found to occur during warmer spells following periods of rain, but is poorly understood.

The first indication that breeding is about to start, is when large numbers of adult toads appear after dark, particularly on rainy nights, to converge on selected breeding sites, hence the old popular name: "the August Frog". Some toads may need to move a few kilometres to reach their breeding sites. The same sites tend to be used each breeding season.  

The advertisement calls of the males are heard at the breeding sites. They tend to call in bouts and in choruses of up to about 50 individuals, but as many as an estimated 200 males have been heard chorusing at a large breeding site. The calling is generally at night, but during peak breeding periods, can continue throughout the day, especially if very large numbers of males are present at the breeding site. They call from stands of emergent vegetation (e.g. bulrushes), but at night, they also call from areas of open water. The males have a habit of calling from a floating position with limbs outstretched.

Amplexing (mating) pairs tend to use areas of open water for spawning. The female deposits thousands of eggs in gelatinous strings. One pair reportedly produced 24 476 eggs. Thereafter, metamorphosis generally takes more than 10 weeks, but is influenced by factors such as food availability for the tadpoles, and the type, temperature and volume of the water body. The relatively small, dark, benthic (bottom dwelling) tadpoles develop into tiny 11 mm long toadlets that leave the water in October-December in their thousands. Relatively few of the offspring develop into adults, which apparently takes about 1-3 years for males and 2-6 years for females. Most fall victim to a variety of predators (including their own kind) and other hazards.

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toads in amplexus

toads in amplexus




toad eggs





toadlets rescued from swiming pool




camouflaged toadlet


Conservation status

The Western Leopard Toad is classified according to the IUCN Red List as an Endangered species. This is based on: its restricted distribution and habitat, habitat that is severely fragmented; and a continuing decline in the extent of distribution, area and quality of habitat, and the number of locations/populations and mature individuals. In particular, although the largest recorded populations occur in a largely urban environment on the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats, they are increasingly being threatened by urbanization; and there have been no recent records of this toad from the middle part of its distribution range, extending from Pringle Bay to Hermanus.   

Furthermore, although this toad occurs in some protected nature areas, most of the known breeding and foraging habitat is situated outside of these areas. Protected areas that have suitable breeding habitat include: Zandvlei Nature Reserve (including the adjoining Westlake Wetland Conservation area), Rondevlei and Zeekoevlei nature reserves, and Table Mountain National Park (e.g. Cape of Good Hope area).

In the urban environment of the City of Cape Town, the Western Leopard Toad breeds in certain public open space and green-belt areas, as well as golf courses, and is often encountered in surrounding gardens. These are important foraging areas and sanctuaries, but with increasing development, road traffic and associated threats, the long-term survival of local populations is potentially threatened.

The overall conservation status of the Western Leopard Toad would improve if it is found to occur in the extensive coastal lowlands that extend from the Agulhas Plain to Mossel Bay area. This is a distinct possibility as there have been unconfirmed sightings of this species in this largely undeveloped region that includes nature reserves, but this might also be a case of toads transported by holidayers in vehicles well outside their natural range.

Click here for a summary of literature review identifying waterfowl suited to WLT breeding sites

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Legal Status

The Western Leopard Toad is a protected wild animal in terms of the Nature Conservation Ordinance No. 19 of 1974. This means that no person may harm, capture, possess, or transport this species, or keep it in captivity, without a permit from CapeNature, the provincial nature conservation authority.

No commercial trade is allowed in this species, and any person conducting research on this species requires a permit from CapeNature.

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Threats

The Western Leopard Toad is threatened throughout most of its range by general development and habitat degradation. While breeding generally takes place in larger, more secure water bodies, urban development poses an obvious threat around these water bodies by causing habitat fragmentation and restricting the foraging area and movement of toads. This reduces population size, and can restrict or completely interrupt gene flow between populations.

In an urban environment, toads are forced to negotiate roads and barriers, such as walls, embankments and canals, while foraging and migrating to and from breeding sites. Expanding urban development and increased road traffic results in the death of hundreds of toads each year, especially during the breeding season. Artificial water bodies with vertical sides, such as swimming pools, canalized rivers and stormwater drains, represent additional deathtraps that pose a threat to local populations.

Specific threats at some breeding sites include: pollutants; introduced predatory fish (e.g. barbell); invasive floating plants that choke the water surface and stagnate the water (e.g. water hyacinth); and captive populations of alien ducks that consume toad eggs and tadpoles, and foul the water.

Prevent toad deaths, see how to install a toadsaver here

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road negotiation often ends in death




urban threats



toadsavers help toads escape swimming pools
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Information compiled by Atherton de Villiers, May 2009