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Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

Brachycephalus ephippium is a small frog with adults ranging from 12.5 mm to 19.7 mm in snout-vent length. Although tiny, it has a robust body, with short legs. The skin color is bright yellow to orange. The iris is completely black. Digit number is reduced, with three fingers and three functional toes. Phalanges are also reduced, in both number and size, so that fingers and toes are both shorter and smaller. The terminal phalanges are T-shaped. A dermal bony shield is present and ossified dorsal to the backbone. No teeth are present on the maxillary or premaxillaries. (Pombal, 2003).

  • Pombal, J. P. Jr., Sazima, I., and Haddad, C. F. B. (1994). ''Breeding behavior of the Pumpkin Toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium (Brachycephalidae).'' Journal of Herpetology, 28, 516-519.
  • Pombal, J. P., Jr. (2003). ''Pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
  • Sebben, A., Schwartz, C.A., Valente, D., and Mendes, E.G.A. (1986). ''Tetrodotoxin-like substance found in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Toxicon, 24, 799-806.
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Distribution

Range Description

This species occurs in eastern and southeastern Brazil (in the states of Bahia, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo) from Ilheus (Bahia) in the north, south to Campinas (São Paulo). It occurs from sea level up to 1,200m asl. Records from Paraná require confirmation.
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Distribution and Habitat

Pumpkin Toadlets are found in Serra do Mar and Serra da Mantiqueira in southeastern Brazil. They occur in montane Atlantic coastal forest, from 750 m to 1200 m in elevation. These frogs inhabit leaf litter on the forest floor (Pombal et al., 1994).

  • Pombal, J. P. Jr., Sazima, I., and Haddad, C. F. B. (1994). ''Breeding behavior of the Pumpkin Toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium (Brachycephalidae).'' Journal of Herpetology, 28, 516-519.
  • Pombal, J. P., Jr. (2003). ''Pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
  • Sebben, A., Schwartz, C.A., Valente, D., and Mendes, E.G.A. (1986). ''Tetrodotoxin-like substance found in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Toxicon, 24, 799-806.
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Geographic Range

Brachycephalus ephippium, the pumpkin toadlet, has a highly restricted distribution in South America. Pumpkin toadlets are native to neotropical rainforests along the Atlantic coast of southeastern Brazil. Their range extends from northern areas of Bahia, in eastern Brazil, south to São Paulo.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

  • International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2010. "Brachycephalus ephippium" (On-line). Red List. Accessed February 06, 2011 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/54453/0.
  • Giaretta, A., K. Facure, J. Sawaya, J. Meyer, N. Chemin. 2006. Diversity and abundance of litter frogs in a montane forest of southeastern Brazil: seasonal and altitudinal changes. Biotropica, 31/4: 669-674.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Pumpkin toadlets are one of the smallest extant anuran species known. Body length ranges from 12.5 to 19.7 mm, with an average of 18 mm. Skin coloration of pumpkin toadlets is typically bright yellow to orange, with tiny wart-like bumps along the dorsum. Their eyes are rounded and completely black. Pumpkin toadlets have four digits on their front appendages, but only three are functional. Similarly, they have five digits on their hind limbs, but only four are functional. Reduced functional digits is specific to brachycephalids. In addition, these species have very short appendages, making them very low to the ground. In addition, like other true toads, pumpkin toadlets lack teeth, instead using dermal bones and strong jaw muscles to eat small insects. Little to no sexual dimorphism is evident. Juvenile pumpkin toadlets have a small vestigial tail that adult toadlets lack. Pumpkin toadlets show direct development, skipping the tadpole stage.

Brachycephalus ephippium have been found to produce traces of tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin, which presumably evolved as a predator defense mechanism. The skin has the highest levels of this tetrodotoxin, followed by the liver and ovaries.

Range length: 12.5 to 19.7 mm.

Average length: 18 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; poisonous

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

  • Pires, O., A. Sebben, E. Schwartz, S. Largura, C. Bloch, R. Morales, C. Schwartz. 2002. Occurrence of tetrodotoxin and its analogues in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium (Anura: Brachycephalidae). Toxin, 40/6: 761-766.
  • Pombal, J. 2003. Pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium. Pp. 179-182 in M Hutchins, W Duellman, N Schlager, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, 2 Edition. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It is found in primary and secondary forest, but not in open areas. It lives in leaf-litter on the forest floor. It breeds by direct development, not requiring water, and the egg clutch is deposited on forest floor and each egg is covered by soil particles.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Brachycephalus ephippium is found in both primary and secondary montane forests that tend to be warm and humid. It is most often found between 700 and 1200 m in elevation and tends to avoid open areas, remaining on the leaf-covered forest floor. During the dry season, B. ephippium finds shelter under logs and branches. During the rainy season, which occurs from mid-October through March, males become highly aggressive. Individuals can be seen above the litter, during the wet season, searching for mates.

Range elevation: 700 to 1200 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; mountains

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

  • Pombal, J., I. Sazima, C. Haddad. 1994. Breeding behavior of the pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium. Journal of Herpetology, 28/4: 516-519.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Pumpkin toadlets are carnivorous and forage under leaf litter for potential prey. Their diet consists mostly of small arthropods, especially springtails. They also feed on insect larvae and mites found on the rainforest floor. Juveniles feed on the same insects and small arthropods as adults.

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Pumpkin toadlets are insectivorous, feeding primarily on springtails and small insects, such as mites. As a result, they may help control certain insect pest species throughout their geographic range. Due to the presence of tetrodotoxin throughout their bodies, pumpkin toadlets have relatively few predators. There is no information available regarding parasites of this species.

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Predation

Pumpkin toadlets deter potential predators with their bright orange aposematic coloration, which serves as a warning that they are toxic. Considerably high concentrations of tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin with no antidote, can be found in the skin and liver. Hiding in and under leaf litter and logs also reduces predation. Major predators include ground foraging birds, such as rusty-margined guans or solitary tinamous. When approached by a potential predator, pumpkin toadlets emit a high pitched call to warn conspecifics and to scare off the intruder. If calls do not deter a potential predator, males may move their forearms up and down over one of their eyes as additional warning sign. Males use these techniques only if a potential predator approaches their territory or if they feel threatened. Females have the same bright skin tone and tetrodotoxin, and use calls as warning signals.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

  • Toledo, L., R. Ribeiro, C. Haddad. 2007. Anurans as prey: An exploratory analysis and size relationships between predators and their prey. Journal of Zoology, 271: 170-177.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Brachycephalus ephippium communicates in a number of different ways, both with con- and heterospecifics. Their vivid yellow-orange coloration warning serves as a warning sign to potential predators that they are toxic. The bright color, easily spotted along the rainforest floor, is also used as a means of visual communication for other pumpkin toadlets to conveniently locate one another. Male pumpkin toadlets use visual and vocal signals more frequently than females. Males produce an “advertisement call”, alerting conspecifics of their presence. This loud buzzing call lasts from two to six minutes. When approached by a potential rival, male pumpkin toadlets produce high-pitched vocalizations, along with repeated movements of its forelimbs up-and-down over its eyes. Males also whip their head with their limbs as a means of welcoming another pumpkin toadlet into their territory. Finally, males always travel directly behind females in an effort to offer protection and to convey dominance to rival males.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Cycle

Development

Pumpkin toadlets have a unique development pattern in that they bypass the tadpole stage. Embryos have a yolk sac, from which development begins. Around the 25th day of development, pumpkin toadlets begin to show evidence of a small mouth and large tail. On the 41st day, the embryo develops phalanges, along with two egg teeth near the end of the rostrum. By the 54th day, young pumpkin toadlets have light skin pigment, a noticeably shorter tail, and only one egg tooth remaining for use during hatching. Eggs hatch in a 64-day cycle in the rainforest leaf litter. Typically, only 5 pumpkin toadlets hatch together. After hatching, they no longer possess an egg tooth and have acquired a dark-brownish color. Young pumpkin toadlets become independent directly after hatching. For a short period after hatching, toadlets retain a short vestigial tail. Newly hatched toadlets average 5.25 mm to 5.45 mm long. As they mature, coloration changes to orange-yellow and functional digits are reduced from 3 to 2 working fingers and from 4 to 3 functional toes. Age of sexual maturity is not known for pumpkin toadlets.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

There is no information available regarding the lifespan of pumpkin toadlets. However, frogs in the suborder Neobatrachia have a lifespan ranging from 4 to 6 years in the wild. In captivity, they can survive 10 to 12 years.

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Reproduction

Breeding in pumpkin toadlets is polygynandrous and occurs throughout the rainy seasons. Males attract mates using a combination of vocal and visual displays. Males take on a larger and more upright posture, due to their enlarged vocal sack. They release a long buzzing call, which lasts from 2 to 6 minutes and ranges in frequency from 3.4 to 5.3 kHz. The first notes in the call consist of 5 to 6 pulses and increase to as many as 15 pulses. Forests where pumpkin toadlets live are generally quiet, and the pitch of the male call is lower than rustling leaves. When approached by a female, males often move their arm up and down over their eye. Visual displays for attracting mates are more common when other males are present and in loud environments. When a female approaches, she chooses the site of oviposition, typically in the leaf litter or under a log, while the male follows close behind. The male then shifts from an inguinal to auxiliary position to maximize fertilization. After about 30 minutes, five yellow-white eggs are deposited, which range in size from 5.1 to 5.4 mm in diameter. The male then leaves the site while the female presses and rolls the eggs in soil using her hind legs, camouflaging the eggs. After the eggs are camouflaged, they are left unattended to develop and hatch on their own.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Pumpkin toadlets breed during the rainy season in southeast Brazil, which usually occurs between mid-October and March. During this time, males are highly aggressive. Reproduction is oviparous, and eggs take about 64 days to hatch. During this time, eggs are kept hidden from predators and sunlight under logs or leaf litter. Brachycephalids, also known as saddleback toads, exhibit a number of unique breeding characteristics. For example, they undergo direct fertilization, in which eggs hatch as miniature toadlets, and the tadpole stage is completely bypassed. Another difference is their method of amplexus. When a male first mounts a female, it is in an inguinal position, where the male holds the female around her waist. He later moves to an axillary position, where he grabs the female above her arms. This most likely is to increase fertilization. This use of more than one mating position is uncommon among anurans.

Breeding interval: Pumpkin toadlets breed once yearly during the rainy season.

Breeding season: Pumpkin toadlets breed during the rainy seasons, which occurs from mid-October through March.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Average time to hatching: 64 days.

Average time to independence: 0 minutes.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

After fertilization, the male pumpkin toadlets leave the breeding site. Typical clutch size is five eggs. Once eggs are laid, the female diligently works with her hind legs, kicking and rolling the eggs in the soil to cover them. This not only helps to camouflage the eggs from potential predators, but protects them from sunlight as well; however, decause reproduction occurs during the rainy season, sunlight is not a major problem. Females also ensure that eggs are laid under a log or in leaf litter, for further protection. Toadlets are independent upon hatching and usually remain in the area in which they are born.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); inherits maternal/paternal territory

  • Pombal, J., I. Sazima, C. Haddad. 1994. Breeding behavior of the pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium. Journal of Herpetology, 28/4: 516-519.
  • Pombal, J., E. Wistuba, M. Bornschein. 1998. A new species of Brachycephalid (anura) from the Atlantic Rain Forest of Brazil. Journal of Herpetology, 32/1: 70-74.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Brachycephalus ephippium

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2010

Assessor/s
Monique Van Sluys, Carlos Frederico da Rocha

Reviewer/s
Global Amphibian Assessment Coordinating Team (Simon Stuart, Janice Chanson, Neil Cox and Bruce Young)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.

History
  • 2004
    Least Concern
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Pumpkin toadlets are classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species and is abundant throughout its limited geographic range. Major threats include extensive habitat loss due to agricultural expansion, deforestation, human settlement and tourism.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
It is a very common species.

Population Trend
Stable
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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

These frogs are diurnal during the rainy season. Generally they walk about on the leaf litter, but will find a low perch if the humidity approaches 100%. They clean themselves by wiping their head and body with their limbs. During the dry season, they remain under logs or leaf litter (Pombal, 2003).

Males are highly territorial during the rainy season. When another frog approaches, the male frog signals both by vocalization and by moving an arm up and down in front of its own eye. If the intruder is a male and remains, the male frog embraces and wrestles the intruder, pushing it away. Presentation of mirrors to male frogs elicited visual displays in almost all cases, and rarely, attacks, but no vocalizations. Presentation of mirrors to two female frogs resulted in a visual display by one of the females (Pombal et al., 1994).

Breeding takes place during the rainy season. Advertisement calls consist of a continuous series of buzzes lasting two to six minutes. The call begins with the first notes having five or six pulses, and ending with notes that have as many as fifteen pulses. However, most of the notes have ten pulses and an almost constant pitch. Calling males elevate their body, displaying a "high posture". Visual signals may be more important than vocal signals in this species since the vocalization appears to be softer in volume than background environmental noise (Pombal et al., 1994).

The male grasps the female and walks behind her as she selects a site for egg deposition in the leaf litter or under a log. Initially amplexus is inguinal (around the waist), with the male then moving forward and changing to an almost axillary position (just below the armpits). Females lay up to five large, yellowish white eggs over a period of about half an hour. When the males leave the mating site, the females roll the eggs about using their hind feet. Dirt adheres to the egg surfaces, helping to camouflage them. The females then leave the eggs unattended. Development is direct (lacking the tadpole stage), with hatching of miniature toadlets occurring in about two months. The newly hatched toadlets still have a vestigial tail (Pombal, 2003).

Pumpkin Toadlets are active foragers. The adult diet consists of small arthropods, primarily collembolans (springtails), but also including mites and insect larvae (Pombal, 2003).

  • Pombal, J. P. Jr., Sazima, I., and Haddad, C. F. B. (1994). ''Breeding behavior of the Pumpkin Toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium (Brachycephalidae).'' Journal of Herpetology, 28, 516-519.
  • Pombal, J. P., Jr. (2003). ''Pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
  • Sebben, A., Schwartz, C.A., Valente, D., and Mendes, E.G.A. (1986). ''Tetrodotoxin-like substance found in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Toxicon, 24, 799-806.
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Threats

Major Threats
The main threats relate to extensive habitat loss due to agricultural encroachment, clear-cutting, human settlement, and tourism.
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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

This species is not threatened. Its range is within protected areas in the Brazilian Atlantic coastal forest (Pombal, 2003).

  • Pombal, J. P. Jr., Sazima, I., and Haddad, C. F. B. (1994). ''Breeding behavior of the Pumpkin Toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium (Brachycephalidae).'' Journal of Herpetology, 28, 516-519.
  • Pombal, J. P., Jr. (2003). ''Pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
  • Sebben, A., Schwartz, C.A., Valente, D., and Mendes, E.G.A. (1986). ''Tetrodotoxin-like substance found in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Toxicon, 24, 799-806.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It occurs in several protected areas. It has been recommended that the population trends of this species should be monitored over a long period of time, as it is likely to be a good indicator of the condition of the Atlantic Forest ecosystem.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Tetrodotoxin, which is found throughout the body of pumpkin toadlets, is a neurotoxin with no antidote that can be harmful to animals, including humans. This neurotoxin is a known hallucinogenic and can cause great damage to the lungs, muscles, and nervous system, if ingested. Tetrodotoxin decreases blood pressure, which can lead to cardiac arrest. This same toxin can also be found in longspined porcupinefish and in numerous other marine species.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (poisonous )

  • Pires, O., A. Sebben, E. Schwartz, R. Morales, C. Block, C. Schwartz. 2005. Further report of the occurrence of tetrodotoxin and new analogues in the Anuran family Brachycephalidae. Toxicon, 45/1: 73-79.
  • Sebben, A., C. Schwartz, D. Valente, E. Mendes. 1986. A tetrodotoxin-like substance found in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium. Toxicon, 40/6: 799-806.
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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pumpkin toadlets are sometimes sold as pets. In addition, the tetrodotoxin they produce as an antipredator defense is currently being researched for potential medicinal use. As an amphibian, pumpkin toadlets are likely good indicators of habitat quality throughout their geographic range.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; research and education

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Risks

Relation to Humans

These frogs secrete ephippiotoxin, a tetrodotoxin-like compound (Sebben et al., 1986).

  • Pombal, J. P. Jr., Sazima, I., and Haddad, C. F. B. (1994). ''Breeding behavior of the Pumpkin Toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium (Brachycephalidae).'' Journal of Herpetology, 28, 516-519.
  • Pombal, J. P., Jr. (2003). ''Pumpkin toadlet, Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 6, Amphibians. 2nd edition. M. Hutchins, W. E. Duellman, and N. Schlager, eds., Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
  • Sebben, A., Schwartz, C.A., Valente, D., and Mendes, E.G.A. (1986). ''Tetrodotoxin-like substance found in the Brazilian frog Brachycephalus ephippium.'' Toxicon, 24, 799-806.
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Wikipedia

Pumpkin toadlet

The pumpkin toadlet or Spix’s saddleback toad (Brachycephalus ephippium) is a species of frog in the Brachycephalidae family. It is endemic to montane regions of southeastern Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais states). Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It is threatened by habitat loss.

References[edit]

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