Amphibians

With tails, without tails

Common frog | APAM Archive

The common toad (Bufo bufo) is a very discreet anuran amphibian (without tail), active especially at night, when it hunts earthworms, snails and insects in the wooded and shrubby environments where it lives most of the year. During the mating period, it undertakes mass migrations to reach areas where the population concentrates to reproduce. During this period, the greatest risk for adults is posed by cars, which kill many toads every year. Inside the Park there is only one known reproductive site, located at 1350 meters above sea level, where in July it is possible to observe a few dozen adults.

The common frog (Rana temporaria) lives in mountain pastures and meadows up to over 2200 metres above sea level, near the banks of streams and lakes. It reproduces both in lakes and in temporary pools due to thawing. At an altitude of 2000 metres, the larvae complete their metamorphosis very slowly: they take two years, as opposed to the two and a half months or slightly more of the hill populations. This is an interesting adaptation of the species to the alpine environment. Adults and larvae winter under the ice and in spring the males emerge first, sometimes risking to death from dehydration on the ice of the alpine lakes. The species suffers locally from being preyed upon by trout, introduced by fishermen into nutrient-poor Alpine lakes, where these fish do not have sufficient resources to survive.

The spotted salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is an urodelan amphibian (with tail). At higher altitudes this species also adopts a reproductive strategy similar to that of the common frog: the populations living in the mountains take two years to complete the gestation. The adults lead a very discreet life and are normally active during the night, or during rainy and humid weather. It is quite easy to observe them on rainy days, also along the roadside and near watercourses, especially in late summer.

The rarest and most extraordinary amphibian of the Maritime Alps is the cave salamander (Speleomantes strinatii), an urodelan amphibian present in some caves near the Park, where it feeds on insects and troglophilous invertebrates. It has specific adaptations to underground life in a damp saturated environment, such as breathing exclusively through the skin, with pulmonary atrophy, and an extremely slow development of the eggs. Several species of cave salamander have been described in the Mediterranean basin, a genus that also represents an interesting case of paleoendemism. Its closest relatives live in California: this disjointed distribution shows that these animals already existed before the continental drift separated Europe from America!