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Spadefoot Toads: Pelobatidae

Plains Spadefoot Toad (spea Bombifrons): Species Account

Physical characteristics: Plump and round-bodied, the Plains spadefoot toad has wrinkled skin. Its head has a short, rounded, and slightly upturned snout and two very large eyes with catlike, vertical pupils. Between its eyes and running down to the top of its snout is a blisterlike hump, also known as a boss. Its short forelegs end in feet with small toes that have no webbing between. It has webbed feet on its large back legs, and the bottom of each foot has a single, small, black scoop, or spade, below the toes. Its back is light tan, milk chocolate-colored, greenish brown, or gray, sometimes with four light-colored stripes running from head to rump, or with numerous faint, darker brown spots. The toads occasionally have red or yellow sandlike bumps on their backs, which may sit in small dark spots. The underside is white, although the males sometimes have a noticeable blue Plains spadefoot toads are burrowing frogs that spend their days and many of their nights underground where the ground is moist. (Illustration by Emily Damstra. Reproduced by permission.) or gray tint on the sides of the throat. Adults grow to about 1.5 to 2.5 inches (3.8 to 6.4 centimeters) from the tip of the snout to the end of the rump.

Geographic range: The Plains spadefoot toad is a North American species and lives from northern Mexico into the southern tip of Texas and in a wide area from northern Mexico through many central U.S. states and into southern Canada.

Habitat: It makes its home in the dry prairies and farm fields that are common in central North America.

Diet: Night hunters, adults eat insects and other invertebrates.

Behavior and reproduction: The Plains spadefoot toad is a fossorial (faw-SOR-ee-ul) animal, which means that it lives most of its life underground. The small spades on its feet help it dig hind-end-first into the loose, often sandy soil of its habitat. It leaves its burrows at night after a rain or when the air is humid to look for food. It also comes out of its underground burrow to mate. When the spring rains drench the land, hundreds of these frogs will all hop from their burrows at once to mate. Because so many frogs mate together over a short time, scientists call them explosive breeders. The males find small puddles and shallow ponds and begin making their squeaky calls to attract females. While mating, each female lays hundreds of eggs, which stick to underwater plants, rocks, and other objects. Within two days, the eggs hatch into tadpoles, and these change into froglets in as little as two weeks. This quick egg-to-tadpole-to-froglet growth is important, because they live in a habitat where puddles and ponds can dry up in a very short time. A tadpole cannot survive without water. Males and females may mate again later in the year if another heavy rain soaks the ground.

Plains spadefoot toads and people: People only notice this toad when a group of males is calling together.

Conservation status: This species is not considered to be threatened. In some areas, however, its habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate. A few states and provinces have now begun taking measures to protect it. ∎



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Halliday, Tim, and Kraig Adler, eds. The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Facts on File, 1991.

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Fellman, Bruce. "To eat or not to eat." National Wildlife. February-March 1995 (volume 33): page 42.

Freeman, Melanie. "The Spadefoot Toad." Boy's Quest. February-March 2002 (volume 7): page 2.

Web sites:

"Eastern Spadefoot Toad." Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. http://dep.state.ct.us/burnatr/wildlife/factshts/esptoad.htm (accessed on February 14, 2005).

"Eastern Spadefoot Toad." Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia. http://www.uga.edu/srelherp/anurans/scahol.htm (accessed on February 14, 2005).

"Frogs and Toads Found in Texas." Texas Parks and Wildlife. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/education/tracker/amphibians/species/ (accessed on February 14, 2005).

"Great Basin Spadefoot Toad." B.C. Frogwatch Program, Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection, Government of British Columbia. http://wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/wld/frogwatch/whoswho/factshts/spadeft.htm (accessed on February 14, 2005).

"Official State Amphibian: New Mexico Spadefoot Toad." Netstate.com. http://www.netstate.com/states/symb/amphibians/nm_spadefoot_toad.htm (accessed on February 14, 2005).

"Plains Spadefoot, Spea bombifrons." Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/narcam/idguide/speab.htm (accessed on February 14, 2005).

"Plains Spadefoot Toad." Lee Richardson Zoo. http://www.garden-city.org/zoo/animalinfo/plains_spadefoot.htm (accessed on February 14, 2005).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceAmphibiansSpadefoot Toads: Pelobatidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, Plains Spadefoot Toad (spea Bombifrons): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, SPADEFOOT TOADS AND PEOPLE