Spadefoot Toad - Couch's Spadefoot

The Spadefoot toad, in particular, Couch's spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchi) (getting its name because of the distinctive spade-like projections on their hind feet for digging) lives underground in the southern United States and northern Mexico.

Facts about Couch's spadefoot toad:

  • Grows to about 5.5cm - 9cm
  • Has a plump body with smooth-ish skin
  • Large eyes with yellow irises
  • Short powerful limbs
  • Back limbs have hard ridges on the 'heels' to help with burrowing
  • Yellow/brown in colour
  • Males are plain, but females have brown mottled markings on their backs
  • Undersides are mostly white in both males and females
  • Females are larger than the males
  • Nocturnal, terrestrial but spending most time underground
  • Diet - invertebrates

Couch's Spadefoot toad - how do they spend their time?

This toad spends a great deal of it's time undergound in cocoons formed from layers of shed skin. This shed skins helps keep the toad from 'drying out' or dehydrating, and they may spend a few months a year in a sort of 'suspended animation' state during the months of dry weather.  

Then, as the rain of the summer starts to fall heavily on the plains and deserts, the toad sparks into life, busily making its way to the soaked surface to enjoy the temporary and very welcome flood pools of water.  It is during these flooded watery periods, that the wet ground can seem to be full of Couch's spadefoot toads as they make their way to find a mate and breed.  

During these times, the toads will all gather together and breed and sing in their choruses.  There can be several thousand males in these choruses, all singing and calling, and they can be heard from a distance of 1.6km.

It is thought the singing is so loud as they try to let the females know where they can be found - their breeding grounds can change from year to year, depending on where the floodwater gathers.

These choruses can consist of various species of spadefoots and not just Couch's - there can be other regional types such as the plain (S.bombifrons), or western (S.hammondi) and Sonoran desert toads (Bufo alvarius).  These others have similar lifestyles to the Couch's spadefoot toad and although they all 'sing' together, they do all make a different sound.

The Couch's spadefoot toad's breeding season may only last 2 to 3 days.  During this very brief season, all females will scramble to the surface, find a mate and produce eggs.

They are known as explosive breeders as they all will breed within a short space of time.

  • The males will elbow their way to a female to gain one or more matings
  • After mating, they feed and build up reserves for the forthcoming 10 - 11 months estivation (dormant period during hot dry season)
  • They burrow down to form another cocoon as soon as the ground begins to dry out
  • Their eggs hatch within a few days and the tadpoles develop quickly
  • Occasionally, the tadpoles can metamorphose 14-15 days after hatching
  • They all develop at different rates; some metamorphose when they reach a larger size
  • Sometimes, when the rain falls more than once, the tadpoles are lucky as they can metamorphose before the ground dries
  • This species of toad can tolerate temperatures above 98 degrees farenheit.  Most other frogs and toads cannot survive temperatures above 86 degrees farenheit. 

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