The courtship and mating of the Iberian midwife toad Alytes cisternasii (Amphibia: Anura: Discoglossidae)



Sexual encounters were staged in the laboratory among hormonally-primed Iberian midwife toads, Alytes cisternasii. In this species, pairing and fertilization are terrestrial. The male cares for the developing embryos on land, carrying them twined around his hind limbs until they hatch into tadpoles which he releases into water; his investment in the offspring then ends. The courtship of A. cisternasii can be divided into a pre- and post-ovulatory phase. An encounter is initiated when the female approaches the male and is clasped by him in inguinal amplexus. Both the male and the female produce vocalizations during the period prior to the initiation of amplexus. During amplexus, only the female vocalizes, changing her call to one that is of lower intensity, longer duration and more regularly emitted than before. During inguinal amplexus, the male engages in bouts of intense pedalling and gentle rocking behaviour, each bout being initiated when the female repositions herself beneath him. Rocking and pedalling cease when the female ovulates, at which time she exhibits a posture that we call Unkenkrampf. Ovulation occurs at this time, and is followed by sperm release by the male (seen as a series of lateral compressions of his body). After sperm release, the male moves forwards to engage the female in cervical amplexus and then manoeuvres his hind limbs such that the egg string becomes tangled around his ankles. The female may exhibit additional episodes of Unkenkrampf during this period, but these are not accompanied by further egg release. Episodes of Unkenkrampf (without ovulation) also may occur after the male dismounts from the female. Similar behaviour patterns to those observed in the laboratory are seen in natural populations of A. cisternasii. We compare and contrast our observations of A. cisternasii with those of other authors for this species and also for the common midwife toad, A. obstericans.