Crucifix Toads

Last updated: Friday 27 May, 2016

(Notaden bennetti)

It turns out toads aren’t so ugly after all! The Crucifix Toad is one of Australia’s most striking amphibians. It has a bright yellow back and multi-coloured spots forming the shape of a cross. Little wonder it’s also known as the Catholic or Holy Cross Frog.

It’s small and rotund—at 4.5cm to 6.5cm long it’s roughly the size of an Australian 20 cent piece. The female is slightly larger than the male.

The Crucifix Toad is a ground-dwelling, burrowing toad. While underground, it keeps moist by creating a protective cocoon around itself! When rain eventually trickles down to its burrow, and before it resurfaces, the Crucifix Toad eats its own cocoon for a nutritious kick-start. Delicious!

It lives in the semi-arid grasslands and black soil plains of south western Queensland and western New South Wales. It’s currently not considered endangered.

Behaviour

This pretty little toad spends most of its life underground, out of sight. It uses the ‘spades’ on its small feet to help it burrow up to 3 metres deep into the soil, waiting patiently for an extended period of rain. There it remains, cocooned and dormant, sometimes for years on end.

Upon heavy rain, when water filters down into the soil, the toads emerge en masse to feed and breed. But blink and you might miss the Crucifix Toad! Not only are they tiny, but they have a rapid life cycle, lasting only six to eight weeks once they emerge and breed.

They breed quickly, making the most of the wet conditions and temporary ponds of arid Australia. Temporary ponds also provide them with their favourite foods: mosquito larvae, insects and tadpoles.

Best of all, these poor swimmers ‘lure’ prey close by wiggling their toes! With the rest of their body immobile, this lure attracts the attention of unsuspecting insects. This is unusual behaviour for Australian frogs and toads.

The Crucifix Toad is also one of the few Australian frogs to display aposematism—the use of bright coloration to send a warning signal to predators.

When stressed, the toad secretes a sticky substance from its skin. The secretion serves three likely purposes.

  1. It’s used to ensnare biting insects, which are later eaten when the toad sheds its skin.
  2. It’s used by males to attach themselves to larger females while mating.
  3. Finally, it acts as a distasteful deterrent to predators.

But the secretion has also attracted unlikely admirers—medical researchers and orthopaedic surgeons hope to use the strong, ‘gluey’ substance as a non-toxic adhesive.

Threats

Given their close association with floodplains, Crucifix Toads are vulnerable to the over-extraction of water, the destruction of habitat due to development, and prolonged droughts associated with climate change.

Bush Heritage’s work

Crucifix Toads are found on Naree Station Reserve, in north-western New South Wales. A former pastoral property, Naree Station is located in the Warrego-Paroo River catchment in north-western New South Wales, one of the least disturbed parts of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Unlike most other river systems in the Basin, there's minimal water extraction in the Warrego-Paroo system, allowing the area to flood and dry naturally.. This is good news for the Crucifix Toad!

Beyond Naree, we're working to protect toads, frogs and their habitat across Australia. The pandanus-lined wetlands of Reedy Creek in north Queensland provide habitat for an abundance of freshwater frogs. Ethabuka Reserve, in central Queensland, boasts a wetland system of national significance. Now that we’ve removed cattle from Ethabuka we’re working hard to control feral herbivores, like camels, which foul wetlands and waterholes.

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