The Puerto Rican Crested Toad: Working together to save a tiny toad

By Lee Ann Rottman, VP of Conservation

The Puerto Rican crested toad, Peltophryne lemur,is the only toad species native to Puerto Rico. The species once flourished on the island, but is now listed as Critically Endangered due to habitat loss and marine toads preying on their tadpoles. The crested toad is now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as Critically Endangered.

ZooTampa is a proud partner of the Puerto Rican Species Survival Plan (SSP) which includes 20 organizations working together to save this important species. The Zoo’s Herpetology team works to selectively breed pairs of crested toads.  This is a tedious process with many intricate steps.

What does the process look like?

  1. Exams: In early September, before breeding season, our crested toads received physical exams by our veterinarian, Dr. Nico Maldonado. Weights and x-rays were taken, as well as samples for parasitology. These exams are important to ensure the toads are healthy and fit for breeding.

2. Cooling period: Researchers discovered that cooling air temperature is nature’s way of signaling the toads to prepare for breeding. ZooTampa simulates this by slowly dropping the room temperature from 80 °F to 66°F. This was maintained for roughly four weeks and then slowly raised back to normal.

3. Breeding time: After the cooling period, in mid-October, the male and female pairs were introduced to each other in rain chambers for breeding. Wild crested toads will congregate in ponds after heavy rains and the males will call for females to join them. Our herpetologists, actually play a sound track of crested toad mating calls to help get our toads in mood.  Think of it like a little Barry White for the toads.

4. Egg release/fertilization: If all goes as planned, the female toad will release her eggs and the male will fertilize them as she releases them. If the toads don’t naturally breed, our herpetologists can inject a hormone to help promote the release of both eggs and semen.

5. Release: The tadpoles will be released into ponds in Puerto Rico, which are monitored by field staff as they morph into toadlets and disperse. To date, through the combined efforts of the Puerto Rican crested Species Survival Plan, more than 400,000 tadpoles have been reintroduced back into the wild.

This year at ZooTampa, two of our toad pairs produced clutches of fertilized eggs. Within 24 hours the fertilized eggs began to hatch into tadpoles.  Staff will continue feed and care for the tadpole until they’re ready to be sent to Puerto Rico for release.

You can help too! By purchasing a Zoo ticket, you are helping us care for Zoo animals and save species on the brink of extinction, like the Puerto Rican crested toad.