Reproductive endocrinology of the explosively breeding desert spadefoot toad, Scaphiopus couchii

Loreé A. Harvey, Catherine R. Propper, Sarah K. Woodley, Michael C. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


The spadefoot toad, Scaphiopus couchii, is an explosively breeding, desert dwelling amphibian that shows two characteristics hypothesized to select for a dissociated breeding pattern: it lives in a harsh environment and it has a very short, but predictable breeding period. We tested the hypothesis that these factors select for a dissociated breeding cycle by measuring plasma steroid hormones and the gametogenic cycles in a free- living population of S. couchii. Blood and tissue samples were obtained from prebreeding, calling (males only), amplexed, and postbreeding toads. In males, plasma testosterone (T), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and corticosterone (B) differed significantly among reproductive groups, with calling and amplexing loads having the highest levels of each of these steroids. In females, plasma T, DHT, B, progesterone (P), and estradiol (E2) were measured; all steroids except B changed significantly among mating groups. Plasma T and E2 were greatest in prebreeding and amplexed females, while P and DHT were highest only in amplexed females. Primary spermatogonia (SPG I), secondary spermatogonia (SPG II), spermatocytes, spermatids (SPT), and spermatozoa embedded in Sertoli cells (SPS) all changed significantly among male breeding groups. Although all stages were present in all breeding groups, early stages of spermatozoa (SPG I and SPG II) were greatest in postbreeding males, while late stages (SPT and SPS) were highest in prebreeding, calling, and amplexing males. In females, oocyte stages I, II, III, V, and VI and atretic follicles also differed significantly among mating groups. Prebreeding female ovaries, were dominated by late-stage (V and VI) oocytes which were subsequently ovulated during amplexus. In postbreeding females, oogenesis was well under way as indicated by the rising numbers of stage II and III oocytes. These results indicate that aspects of gametogenesis occur during and after breeding in both sexes. Although the results demonstrate that gonadal activity was high during the period of sexual activity, suggesting that S. couchii most closely fits an associated pattern of reproduction as defined by Crews (1984, Horm, Behav. 18, 22-28), we also found that gonadal activity continued past the breeding season. For this reasons, S. couchii does not completely conform to an associated pattern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-113
Number of pages12
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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