Last updated 22 April 2007: updated details for Introduction and for A. obstetricans and D. pictus.

Frogs and Toads of Europe: Discoglossidae

The Family Discoglossidae are an older group of frogs, belonging to the Archeobatrachia ("old" or "ancient" frogs). They have true ribs, unlike frogs and toads belonging to the Neobatrachia ("new" frogs). The chief distinguishing mark, if it can be called such, of the family is the tongue, which is almost round and also fixed to the floor of the mouth. For this reason it cannot be darted out to catch prey in the manner traditionally associated with anurans.

Europe and adjacent regions (North Africa and Asia Minor) are the main distribution range for these anurans, with one being found in the Middle East.

NB Unlike the pages for the other Reptile and Amphibian families, where measurements were given in inches or feet, measurements for the families here are given in centimetres, owing to the generally small size of the subjects.

Either click on a frog or toad in the Quick Links section or scroll down for the whole table.

Alytes obstetricians, Midwife Toad Alytes cisternasii, Iberian Midwife Toad Alytes dickhelleni, Betic Midwife Toad
Alytes muletenis, Mallorcan Midwife Toad Discoglossus galganoi, West Iberian Painted Frog Discoglossus jeannae, East Iberian Painted Frog
Discoglossus montalentii, Corsican Painted Frog Discoglossus pictus, Painted Frog Discoglossus sardus, Tyrrhenian Painted Frog

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
A. obstetricans Midwife Toad [F crapaud accoucheur: D Geburtshelferkröte] Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, SE Netherlands, Germany (as far east as Harz mtns and W. Thuringia), Switzerland, Morocco 5½ cm The name of this toad is derived from its unusual breeding patterns. Females are courted by a number of males, until the strongest succeeds in embracing her and then encourages her to lay her eggs on dry land. She lays a string of 50-80 large eggs, which he fertilises and then winds around his hind legs. The male subsequently carries these around with him, checking them for correct moisture levels and moistening them in dew or shallow water or during the day sheltering with them in a hole. After about a month he finds a body of still water where the tadpoles can hatch. Metamorphosis takes rather a long time, about one year. Other than this, the lifestyle of the Midwife Toad is similar to that of the true toads (Bufonidae), from which it can be distinguished by its vertical pupils. It is mainly nocturnal and by day hides under stones or in holes it excavates itself. Prey is mainly various invertebrate animals. The call of the male has been called "agreeable, sonorous". See below for the different subspecies. Maximum longevity has been recorded as 5 years, with 3-4 years average. This species is noted for emitting a strong smell of garlic. The Moroccan populations are found in the mountains and considered relictary by KKS. Description: head broader than long; interorbital space larger than one eyelid; eyes large and prominent; pupil lozenge-shaped; tympanum round, slightly smaller than eye; distinct gular fold; digits short and flattened; webbing reaches toe tips, but recedes between toes; smooth glandular tubercles cause toad-like appearance; small parotoid gland, not always distinct, above tympanum; often with series of lateral glands behind. Coloration: dorsally greyish or brownish, often dotted with black or spotted with olive or green, with or without rusty points which mostly cover lateral gland rows; light spot between shoulders; ventrally greyish-white with white granulation; gular and pectoral region often dotted with grey. Reproduction: males can be distinguished from females only by pressing the hindlegs forward: in a male the hindlegs will reach the tympanum, but in the female, only the shoulder. Tadpoles measure up to 9cm, but at metamorphosis are less than half the length of adults. See also text above. [SOURCES: KKS, Nöllert & Nöllert].
A. o. obstetricans Coloration: dorsally greyish or brownish with dark spots; ventrally whitish grey.
A. o. almogavarii NE Spain Coloration: usually brownish or yellowish with marbled pattern of green or brown spots.
A. o. boscai N & W Spain and Portugal Usually lacks warts. Coloration: whitish with well-defined green or brown spots: ventrally white.
A. o. maurus Morocco Based mainly on differences in tadpole (relative tail length, spiracle position, etc)
A. o. pertinax C & E Spain Similar, but throat may lack spots.
A. cisternasii Iberian Midwife Toad W. & C. Iberia 5 cm Similar to the above, except that the Midwife Toad has three, and the Iberian Midwife Toad only two, tubercles on the palm of its hands.
A. dickhilleni Betic Midwife Toad SE Spain 3½ cm Similar to A. cisternasii, except that the Betic Toad lacks the orange-red glandular spots found on other Alytes species. This species was only described in 1995. See the AmphibiaWeb entry.
A. muletensis Mallorcan Midwife Toad Sierra de Tramuntana (Mallorca) 3½ cm An interesting and late discovery made only in 1977, after Spanish researchers had described the species Baleaphryne muletensis which was supposedly extinct. In fact in 1979 living tadpoles and young frogs were discovered in the Sierra de Tramuntana, to which area the species is confined. This is a small toad with a relatively large head and a rounded snout. The eyes are likewise very prominent with vertical pupils. There are three tubercles on the palm. Compared to the rest of the genus, this species has relatively long limbs, toes and fingers. The coloration and patterning of the dorsum is quite variable: the ventrum is white. A dark triangular mark may be present behind the eye. The females lay comparatively few but large eggs (usually 7-12), which the males then carry between May and July. The species is considered under threat from various human activities, and a protected area of about 26,000 hectares has been set up (Nöllert and Nöllert). A. muletensis has also been bred in Germany and in Jersey Zoo.
D. galganoi West Iberian Painted Frog Portugal and W Spain    
D. jeannae East Iberian Painted Frog S & E Spain    
D. montalentii Corsican Painted Frog Corsica Max 6½ cm Very similar to D. sardus but snout appears more rounded when viewed from the side: toes are blunter and hind legs longer. It may be found alongside D. pictus in Corsica. Coloration: may have dark spots on back, or may be rather uniform grey, brownish or reddish. Ventrally yellowish white.
D. pictus Painted Frog [F Discoglosse peint: D Gemalter Scheibenzüngler] S France, NE Spain, Sicily, Malta (inc. Gozo), N. Africa (Algeria-Morocco) 7-8 cm The Discoglossid frogs derive their scientific name from their tongues, which unlike most frogs are mostly fixed and therefore cannot be protruded to catch prey as most other species do. Instead, they use their jaws. Discoglossids are also extremely fertile and hence popular laboratory subjects. A female can lay 300-1,000 eggs over 2-10 days, usually on a stony surface: the male then fertilises these. The process of metamorphosis from fertilisation to metamorphosis takes 1-2 months dependent upon climate. Egg-laying can take place several times a year, making discoglossids fairly abundant in their habitats.D. pictus is highly dependent upon water and is found in marshes, ponds and flowing water in low-lying country. Interestingly, it will inhabit water too brackish for most other amphibians. Apart from this its choice of habitat is fairly variable: in southern France it is also found in orchards, vineyards, camping places and even in the direct proximity of human settlements. It is very agile and active by both day and night, preying on both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and occasional small fish. Colouring is variable, but there are usually different kinds of spots on the back arranged in three main rows: some Painted Frogs have a light stripe down the back. Arnold states that the French and Spanish populations arose from the introduction of a few animals in the Banyuls-sur-Mer area of France, possibly in the late 19th century. Description: head depressed, with pointed snout; pupil shaped like an inverted teardrop; toes webbed; skin smooth and glossy, with small elongate dorsal warts (sometimes forming lines) and granules underneath the thighs; tympanum covered with skin, indistinct and smaller than the eye; hands with 3 palmar tubercles, of which the innermost is very large and looks like a thumb; if adpressed forwards, hindlegs pass the snout. Longevity: 7 years recorded for a captive. Coloration: variable overall dorsal colour may be grey, green, olive, yellow, brown or red. The venter is whitish, sometimes with speckling. For North African specimens at least, KKS describe two different patterns: (a) dorsally brown, olive-grey or reddish-brown; 3 pale yellow bands running from snout down the back, of which the middle (vertebral) stripe ends between the thighs, the others passing over the upper eyelids and the sides of the back (b) dorsally yellowish-brown with spotted pattern in the form of roughly symmetrical light brown patches. They also note that although the spotted form is recessive (as opposed to the striped, which is dominant), the spotted form is overall more frequent, something as yet unexplained. Reproduction: males have sturdier forelimbs and strongly webbed feet, webbing being weak in juveniles and mostly absent in females. Males also have callosities on the interior metacarpal border and beneath the 1st & 2nd fingers. A few days before mating, males moult and produce large black nuptial bads on the skin in places such as chin, chest, webbing and limbs. Mating season depends on locality. In North Africa it varies from January to early November in North Morocco and from early February to late June in Oran, Algeria. Copulation lasts 2 hours and the female lays 500-1000 eggs one by one. The eggs take from 30 hours to 10 days to hatch. The speed of tadpole development varies according to latitude but takes between 1-3 months. Recently metamorphosed D. pictus may climb smooth surfaces. Sexual maturity is reached in about 1 year.
D. p. pictus Sicily and Malta (inc. Gozo)   Population of this subspecies may be endangered by the lowering of the water table (Nöllert & Nöllert, 1992)
D. p. auritus S. France, Iberia, N. Africa (Algeria- Morocco)    
D. sardus Tyrrhenian Painted Frog [F: Discoglosse sarde: D: Sardischer Scheibenzüngler] SE France, Corsica, Sardinia, Giglio, Monte Cristo, Illes d'Hyères, Isle of Lavezzi, Italy (Mt Argentario in Tuscany). 7-8 cm Differs from D. pictus in having a wider head and slightly shorter rear limbs: formerly regarded by some as a subspecies of the latter rather than a full species. D. sardus also seems more indifferent to the level of brackishness in water (Nöllert & Nöllert, 1992).


I would like to acknowledge the crucial part played in this page by Lanka and Vit's Amphibians and Reptiles, from which accounts of the more obscure frogs were sometimes lifted almost verbatim. Any mistakes are my own! Data will be added or corrected in the course of my further reading.

Die Amphibien Europas, Andreas and Christel Nöllert, Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart 1992. Outstanding nature guide to every species of amphibian found in Europe.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996. Outstanding review of N African herpetofauna giving detailed account of each species.

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