In an earlier post on “Places,” I mentioned a spadefoot toad that I had discovered only the day before in our yard. This event drew many memories to the surface. In an earlier post, titled “Lizards, Turtles, and Snakes, Oh My!” I mentioned my uncle Neil. He was the curator of herpetology (the science of reptiles and amphibians) at Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
During his visits to the farm, it seemed that he was often in search of the spadefoot toad. Like many frogs and toads, they tend to be nocturnal and secretive. Add to this, the fact that the spadefoot spends most of its life buried in the soil in what is described as a “type of hibernation.” But we (he) knew they were “out there” because at night we could occasionally hear their short crow-like croaks.
The eastern spadefoot toad can be found in most southeastern states except in mountainous areas, and its range extends northward along the Atlantic seaboard through Virginia and into southern New England. There are at least five species or subspecies spread across the United States, but only the “eastern” spadefoot is found east of the Mississippi.
They are common and not considered endangered, but they are rarely seen because of their tendency to stay underground. They venture out only to breed or occasionally eat.
The average length of the adult spadefoot toad is 1¾-2¼ inches. They are brownish in color, usually with two yellow strips that begin behind the eyes and go down the back of its body. The stripes are curved creating a lyre or hourglass pattern. In some individuals, like the one I found, this pattern is very light and barely visible. Spadefoot toads have lived twelve years in captivity, but in the wild, nine years is the average lifespan.
One distinct characteristic is the vertical, “snake eye” pupil.
The spadefoot gets its name from a sharp, hard “blade” on its hind feet that allow it to dig backwards, into loose soil. Their hind feet are partially webbed and they are strong swimmers. They mate at night along the edges of ponds and shallow, temporary pools. The female may lay more than 2000 eggs. The eggs hatch within a day or two, and metamorphosis from tadpole to young frog can be complete in as few as 20 days.
For those of you who just have to know, the scientific name is Scaphiopus holbrookii.
Common, but rarely seen, a Spadefoot Toad evokes some childhood memories—photographs and brief natural history of the spadefoot.