The parotoid macroglands of bufonid anurans store (and can expel) large volumes of toxic secretions and have attracted detailed research. However, toxins also are stored in smaller glands that are distributed on the limbs and dorsal surface of the body. Female and male cane toads (Rhinella marina) differ in the location of toxin-storage glands and the extent of glandular structures. Female toads store a larger proportion of their toxins in the parotoids than males as well as (to a lesser extent) in smaller glands on the forelimbs. Males have smaller and more elongate parotoids than females, but glands cover more of the skin surface on their limbs (especially hindlimbs) and dorsal surface. The delay to toxin exudation in response to electrostimulation varied among glands in various parts of the body, and did so differently in males than in females. The spatial distribution of toxin glands differs between the sexes even in toads that have been raised under standardized conditions in captivity; hence, the sexual dimorphism is due to heritable factors rather than developmentally plastic responses to ecological (e.g., habitat, predation risk) differences between the sexes. The selective advantages of this sexual dimorphism remain unclear. A priori, we might expect to see toxin widely dispersed across any part of the body likely to be contacted by a predator; and a wide distribution also would be expected if the gland secretions have other (e.g., male-male rivalry) functions. Why, then, is toxin concentrated in the parotoids, especially in female toads? That concentration may enhance the effectiveness of frontal displays to deter predation and also may facilitate the transfer of stored toxins to eggs.
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- Bufo marinus
- chemical defense
- sexual dimorphism