When scientists first discovered the Mallorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis
) in 1977 living on the rocky Mediterranean island of Mallorca, they were thunderstruck. Previously, it had only been known from fossils and was presumed extinct for thousands of years, perhaps because humans had introduced predatory viperine snakes (Natrix maura
) and rats (Rattus rattus
) that loved to eat the tiny one-inch toad. But when live specimens of the midwife toad were found living in damp, isolated crevices and waterfall pools high in Mallorca’s Sierra de Traumuntana Mountains, the discovery reverberated among scientific and conservation circles. In 1985, captive-breeding programs were initiated to preserve the few animals that remained.
Besides being one of the few “extinct” animals to be rediscovered, the midwife toad is unusual because of the way it reproduces. Native only to Mallorca, A. muletensis
spawns in the water, but once the female has produced her string of pearl-like eggs, the male carries them like a sash around his hind legs, keeping them moist until they hatch (hence the name midwife
). When they are ready to hatch, he releases the larvae into a pool where they remain as tadpoles for as long as a year.
Today, the population of this species
is estimated at approximately 500 to 1,500 adult pairs, with numbers slowly increasing following coordinated recovery efforts. So far, British, Spanish and German captive-breeding programs have reintroduced ten populations of toads to Mallorca and it is estimated that a quarter of the animals now present on the island came from captive toads. It is possible that the range of A. muletensis
may have doubled across the Sierra de Tramuntana, and plans are afoot to create protected regions where more toads can be reintroduced. The success of this project inspired CI efforts in Central and South America
, where other “lost and found” frog species, harlequin toads (genus Atelopus
), is being saved from extinction by a captive-breeding program organized by CI and its partners.
The Mallorcan midwife toad isn’t home free yet. It is still listed as Vulnerable, predators still abound, and its habitat is under constant pressure from development. But this amphibian, which has been to the brink of oblivion and back, has a lot of friends working hard to keep it safe.