Couch's Spadefoot Toad
Scientific Name: Scaphiopus couchi
Adults can eat enough in one meal to last a year.
The Couch’s spadefoot toad is the most finely adapted for dry weather conditions of any North American amphibian. It is heterothermic and usually estivates for between 8 to 10 months, but may stay buried in its burrow for more than twice that period if the annual rainy season fails to materialize.
STATUS: No special status, not endangered or at risk.
HABITAT: The Southwest United States, extending into Mexico including the Baja Peninsula. The Couch's spadefoot toad lives in grassland prairies and mesquite savannas in arid and semi-arid conditions. In California, it occurs in scattered populations in Imperial County and San Bernardino County.
DIET: This toad eats mostly insects, but will consume almost anything that it can ingest. Tadpoles are carnivores and cannibalism has been documented. Adults can eat enough in one meal to last a year.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The toad has a stout body and grows to approximately 3.5 inches. Color varies from bright green/yellow to brown/yellow. The top surface is mottled with dark green, brown, or black markings; the dark markings are more usual in females. The belly is white and the skin is covered with many small warts. The hind limbs have a single sickle/shaped horny “spade” on the inner surface. The pupils are vertical in bright light. Males tend to be smaller than females. Couch’s Spadefoot toad has large eyes and no parotoid glands. It is not poisonous, but irritating skin secretions can cause sneezing, running nose and watery eyes.
Life in the Fast Lane
Couch’s spadefoot toad comes out of its burrow with the first monsoon rains. Males immediately begin calling to prospective mates from the edges of large temporary pools of rainwater, making a sound like the bleating of a lamb. Eggs are usually laid within the first two days, on submerged plant stems and may hatch in 36 hours if it is warm enough. Tadpoles may transform into adults in as little as 7 to 8 days and must do so, in any case, before the pools of water dry up. Toads must ingest enough food to last for a year and then must dig a new burrow, using its rear “spade” feet to prepare for its next 8 to 10 month nap.