The hills are alive with the sounds of … beeps?
Iberian midwife toad on the riverbank

The hills are alive with the sounds of … beeps?

We first moved to the Portuguese hills towards the end of the hot summer of 2016. We waited until October before we saw our first rains and it was an amazing evening display of purple lightning and thunder echoing around the hills. This lasted just 20 minutes, then everything went quiet.

A strange electronic beeping noise started coming from near the (still dry) river. It seemed too electronic-sounding to be natural, but what was it? Some sort of modern tracking device for the sheep and goats to replace the bells?

The following evening, I was at the river and the beeps started again. I was surrounded by them and it sounded like I had walked into a 1990s acid rave party (yes, during my younger years, that’s a story for another day!). I soon realised this was frogs and returned to the house to investigate. I was almost correct – it was toads, Iberian midwife toads.

The Iberian midwife toad, literally translated into the Portuguese name of sapo-parteiro-ibérico, is a small toad and, as the name suggests, this species can only be found in certain areas of Spain and Portugal (refer to the distribution map).

They are usually found in wooded areas with oak trees, which is why they are large in numbers in the cork and holm oak-ridden Algarve hills. They belong to the Alytidae family, which includes the genus Alytes making up all other species of midwife toads. The Iberian midwife toad has the full scientific name of Alytes cisternasii.

Growing to just 40mm, this toad can be difficult to locate as, combined with its size, the colouring provides great camouflage. Greens, browns and greys can easily blend in with the colours of both plants and rocks. They are often seen with bright orange-coloured warts, which helps with identification.

The eyes of the Iberian midwife toad seem large and out of proportion to the rest of its body and have a vertical slit in the pupil, another good reference for identification.

Another out of proportion feature is the limbs; they are very short compared to most other frog and toad species.

I have already mentioned their strange beeping calls, which usually occur after rainfall in autumn, which is what has prompted me to write about them this month. After the recent rains, the evenings are alive with their calls.

The electronic-sounding beeping noise is almost identical to that of the scops owl, also found in Portugal. The best advice I once read to differentiate them: toads don’t climb trees! Both male and females call to attract mates to breed and this is where it all gets remarkable.

You’re probably wondering why they are called midwife toads … There is a very valid reason, once mating has occurred, the female lays her eggs on the ground and the male collects them and wraps them around his legs. He can carry 180 eggs, which can be clutches of eggs from four different females.

He will continue to carry these eggs until they are almost ready to hatch, after which time he deposits them in a suitable water source for them to hatch. Once the tadpoles hatch, they usually take a further four months before they metamorphosise into toads.

Unfortunately, they are classed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN list and this is partly to blame for the invasive Louisiana crayfish that I wrote about a while ago that prey on the tadpoles.

I am yet to photograph a male with eggs, although I am on the lookout for them. So please keep an eye on my website blog posts for updates!

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

The hills are alive with the sounds of … beeps?
Iberian midwife toad on the riverbank
The hills are alive with the sounds of … beeps?
Iberian midwife toads grow to just 40mm
The hills are alive with the sounds of … beeps?
Distribution of the Iberian midwife toad