Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii)

Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: The Eastern Spadefoot Toad is a large toad, ranging from 1.6 – 3.1 in (4 – 8 cm) long. Their skin is smoother and moister than other toads and is speckled with tiny warts. This species varies in coloration tan or yellowish to dark brown, without bold spots (as in other Southeastern Toads). They usually have two vertical light lines running from the back of their eyes down their dorsum, forming an hourglass shape. The lines are generally more brilliant yellow in males. The characteristics used to immediately distinguish this species from other species of toads are their bright yellow eyes with elliptical pupils (like cat eyes) and the dark spade, which is used for digging, on each hind foot.

Range and Habitat: Spadefoot Toads are found throughout the eastern United States. In our region they are most abundant in the Coastal Plain and are found in scattered populations in the Piedmont but are absent from high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. This species prefers dry habitats with sandy soils but can be found in almost any habitat. Their ability to remain buried for long periods allows them to persist even in suburban and agricultural areas. Spadefoot toads breed in fishless water bodies and can even successfully breed in large puddles and roadside ditches.

Habits: Spadefoot toads are extremely fossorial, spending most their life buried underground and are explosive breeders. Heavy rains, occurring at nearly any time of year, cause them to emerge in large numbers and congregate at breeding in wetlands or ephemeral pools created by the rain. Males call while floating on the surface of the water. Females can lay up to 2,500 eggs at once. Tadpoles grow very quickly and can undergo metamorphosis in as few as 28 days. Data from the Savannah River Ecology Lab have shown that this species is very long lived and populations often go for many years without successful reproductive events.

Call: The call of the Spadefoot Toad is a low-pitched “waaah,” repeated on short intervals.

Interesting Facts: Some people think that Spadefoot Toads smell like peanut butter. People who handle these toads sometimes incur an allergic reaction characterized by sneezing, wheezing, and red eyes.

Conservation Status: Although common and not protected in our region, this species is a conservation concern in some northern portions of its range. This species is vulnerable to habitat loss, particularly wetland destruction.

Pertinent Reference:
Greenberg, C. and G. Tanner. 2004. Breeding Pond Selection and Movement Patterns by Eastern Spadefoot Toads (Scaphiopus holbrookii) in Relation to Weather and Edaphic Conditions. Journal of Herpetology 38:569-577.

Account Author: Kelly Overduijn, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson, Lauren Maynor, Katrina Ford

Account Author: Lindsay Partymiller