In recent decades, a renewed interest in comparative studies of embryonic ontogeny in anurans is taking place. Toad embryos are often employed as model organisms, and scarce attention has been put on interspecific variations. In this work we analyze the development of transient embryonic and larval structures in 21 species in five genera of Bufonidae. These species vary in their ovipositional mode and the type of environments where the embryos and tadpoles develop, including ponds, streams, and axils of leaves of terrestrial or epiphytic plants. Comparative anatomical studies and sequence heterochrony analyses show that primary morphological variations occur in the morphology at the tail-bud stage, the arrangement and development of the external gills, adhesive gland type and division timing, growth of the dorsal hatching gland on the head, configuration of the oral disc, emergence and development of the hind limbs, and presence of the abdominal sucker. Some of these transformations are best explained by phylogeny (e.g., early divergent taxa of bufonids have embryos with kyphotic body curvature, Type C adhesive glands, and a very small third pair of gills). Other traits might be correlated with reproductive modes (e.g., phytotelmata embryos hatch comparatively late and show an accelerated development of hind limbs). Because these actual variations are not well studied (e.g., less than the 10% of the known diversity of bufonids has been studied from this perspective), comprehensive analyses are required to interpret character evolution and the relationship with reproductive modes within the family.
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Vol. 30 • No. 1