Eastern Spadefoot Toad Fact Sheet
EASTERN SPADEFOOT TOAD
Copyright © 1997
|Habitat: Found in arid to semi-arid
areas, such as fields, farmland, dunes and woodlands with sandy or loose soils. Breed in
temporary bodies of water (e.g., vernal pools), flooded fields and forested wetlands.
Length: 1.75-3.25 inches.
Life Expectancy: At least 5 years of age.
|Food: Flies, crickets, caterpillars,
moths, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, earthworms and snails. Tadpoles initially feed on
plankton (microscopic plants) for a few days. The tadpoles then become carnivorous and
sometimes even cannibalistic.
Status: State endangered.
Identification: Eastern spadefoot toads are plump, with smooth skin and
scattered, tiny warts. They range in color from olive to brown to black. Two irregular
yellow stripes on the back may form a vase-shaped pattern or resemble the outline of a
misshapen hourglass. Unlike most frogs and toads in North America, which have round or
horizontal pupils, spadefoot toads have almost vertical pupils. They can be distinguished
from other toads by a black, sharp-edged, spade-like projection on the underside of each
Range: The eastern spadefoot toad occurs from southern New England to south
Florida, west to southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas and eastern Louisiana.
Reproduction: Spadefoot toads are "explosive breeders," appearing
suddenly, sometimes in great numbers, after heavy rains that occur during the warm months
of the year. This is usually a one-night phenomenon, although the toads can breed several
times at the same site from April to July. There is no regular, annual migration to the
breeding pools. Instead, the event is triggered by a quick drop in barometric pressure,
more than 2 inches of rainfall and darkness.
Spadefoot eggs are laid underwater and deposited in strings, which are easily broken.
Eggs are typically attached to a twig, grass blade, fern leaf or some other type of
vegetation. The male fertilizes the small, dark eggs as the female lays them. A female may
lay up to 2,500 eggs, which hatch in 1 to 7 days. The tadpoles grow quickly, transforming
into toads in 16 to 20 days for late-season broods and 48 to 63 days for early-season
History in Connecticut: Eastern spadefoot toads are considered rare in
Connecticut. Only 16 sightings of spadefoots were reported from 1811 to 1936 in southern
New England. The species was only seen 8 times at various locations throughout the state
from 1970 to 1989.
Reason for Decline: The population of spadefoot toads in Connecticut is
threatened by the loss of habitat due to development and urbanization. The toads are also
susceptible to high mortality when breeding pools dry up before the tadpoles can grow into
Interesting Facts: The eastern spadefoot toad is probably the rarest and most
secretive amphibian found in Connecticut. It has been the subject of myths claiming that
it remains buried for years underground in shallow burrows before surfacing to breed.
Spadefoots do remain underground in shallow burrows for weeks during dry periods. Being
nocturnal and usually subterranean (underground), this creature is very difficult to find.
On damp summer nights, spadefoots often emerge from their burrows. When rainfall is
extensive, their call, a short explosive "wank," like the call of a crow, may be
The spade-like projections on the hind feet of the spadefoot enable it to dig easily
into the soil. By rocking back and forth and rapidly digging with its hind legs, the toad
can vanish quickly below the surface of loose soil.
During periods of extended drought, eastern spadefoot toads can lie dormant. They curl
into a tight ball and excrete a fluid that hardens the soil around them, forming a compact
chamber to retain any available moisture. When heavy rains soak the soil, the toads uncurl
and resume their normal activities.
When handling spadefoot toads, many people experience strong allergic reactions to
secretions from the toads' skin glands. Reactions may include violent sneezing, a runny
nose and watery eyes. To prevent an allergic reaction, anyone who handles a spadefoot toad
should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, keeping their hands away from
their face and eyes until they do so.
Protective Legislation: State - Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 26-311.
What You Can Do: The protection of vernal pools (pools of water that are present
during the spring, but may dry up during the summer) and other temporary water bodies will
help many of Connecticut's amphibian species. Pools located near sandy soils or dry, open
areas are of particular importance to spadefoot toads. Learn to identify these special
habitats so they can be noted and protected.
The production of this Endangered and Threatened Species Fact Sheet
Series is made possible by donations to the Endangered Species-Wildlife Income Tax