Spiny toad

Autumn amphibians

Autumn has certainly arrived here in the Algarve and, apart from a short cooler spell, we seem to have mild weather and rain, yes rain, real rain! The northern part of the River Odelouca flows through my land and, for the last few years, the autumn rains have not been sufficient to start it flowing until sometime during the winter months. This year, thanks to the spell of heavy rain, it is running in full flow already.

As you can imagine, the wildlife certainly welcomes the water and none more so than the amphibians. I have written individual articles previously about the first two mentioned below, so please search the Portugal Resident website or follow the links from my website for these archives giving more information.
Below is a quick guide to what to look out for now the ground is damp at night. Of course, the more rural you are, the more chance of viewing (and hearing!) these creatures.

One amphibian that is usually the first to announce its joy of the autumn rains is the Iberian midwife toad. A tiny toad that certainly makes its presence known!

At just 40mm in size, this amazing toad can be heard calling with its loud beeping noise, which always reminds me of those annoying car alarms from the 1990s which used to beep every 10 seconds to let people know it was armed.

Of course, when nature is creating the noise, there is nothing annoying about it and I often sit and listen to the various pitches of them calling out. I have heard them this year but, for some reason, not in as many numbers as I am used to hearing, possibly due to the change in timing of the river running.

They are difficult to spot not only due to their size, but also their green, brown and grey colouring camouflaging them into their surroundings, so it is always better to wait for a call and follow the sound.

If you are wondering why they have the name ‘midwife’, it is because when the females lay their eggs, the male collects them (up to around 180 eggs from various females) and carries them until they are ready to hatch, after which he deposits them in a water source for the tadpoles to hatch.

Another species that I am yet to spot this year, although many other people have, is the stunningly colourful fire salamander. This black salamander with contrasting yellow patches (sometimes complemented with red and orange spots) is usually only active after dusk and even more commonly spotted after rainfall.

At around 25cm in length, they can be spotted easily as they slowly forage for insects, worms and slugs. They do produce a toxin from their skin called ‘samandarin’ and although in theory could be dangerous, the amount that a human or pet would have to consume is considerably large to cause any ill effect. They also taste unpleasant and, therefore, pets usually lose interest if tasted!

Whilst I am on the subject of tasting amphibians, we move onto the spiny toad, a sub-species of the European common toad found in France, Iberia and Northwest Africa. These can grow large, almost dinner plate in size, and the one shown in the photograph was over 20cm in length.

At this time of year, it is common to see all sizes foraging at night. One of my dogs, Wally (aptly named), seems to have an addiction to sniffing and licking the many spiny toads we have in our area and, due to the mild poison excreted from their skin, he ends up suffering 10 minutes of dribbles and frothing.

I often see posts on social media asking for advice after dogs have come into contact with spiny toads. In my experience of Wally, he suffers no lasting ill-effects, however, other dogs may have a different reaction. They are often spotted near homes, particularly if you have outside lights that attract insects, which in turn attracts the toads to feed. Even though the nights are turning cooler, there is still plenty of nature to be seen and heard after dark.

By Craig Rogers
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Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography

Midwife toad
Fire salamander
Spiny toad