Sequential polyandry may evolve as an insurance mechanism to reduce the risk of choosing a mate that is infertile, closely related, genetically inferior or incompatible, but polyandry also might insure against nest failure in unpredictable environments. Most animals are oviparous, and in species where males provide nest sites whose quality varies substantially and unpredictably, polyandrous females might insure offspring success by distributing their eggs across multiple nests. Here, we test this hypothesis in a wild population of an Australian terrestrial toadlet, a polyandrous species, where males construct nests and remain with broods. We found that females partitioned their eggs across the nests of two to eight males and that more polyandrous females gained a significant increase in mean offspring survivorship. Our results provide evidence for the most extreme case of sequential polyandry yet discovered in a vertebrate and also suggest that insurance against nest failure might favour the evolution of polyandry. We propose that insurance against nest failure might be widespread among oviparous taxa and provide an important explanation for the prevalence of sequential polyandry in nature. © 2008 The Royal Society.