Eastern Spadefoot
Scaphiopus holbrookii

Common Name:

Eastern Spadefoot

Scientific Name:

Scaphiopus holbrookii



skaphis is Greek for "shovel or spade", pous is Greek for "foot".


holbrookii is in honor of John Edwards Holbrook (1794-1871).

Average Length:

1.75 - 2.25 in. (4.4 - 5.7 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

2.9 in. (7.3 cm)

The Natural History of the Eastern Spadefoot by Jason Gibson & Paul Sattler

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier IV - Moderate Conservation Need - The species may be rare in parts of its range, particularly on the periphery. Populations of these species have demonstrated a significant declining trend or one is suspected which, if continued, is likely to qualify this species for a higher tier in the foreseeable future. Long-term planning is necessary to stabilize or increase populations.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species ranges in length from 44-72 mm (1 3/4 to 3 in.). It can be distinguished from other toads by its vertical, elliptical pupils and a spadelike, black horny projection on the inside of the foot. These projections are used for digging *1014* *11407*. This species is soft-bodied with short legs and moist skin. The skin may be covered with small tubercles. The dorsum is ususally brown but may range from gray to black. There are light bands running from the eye to vent and along the sides of this species. These bands are more yellow in male specimens *1014*. This species produces a musty peppery secretion that can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals *1014* *11407*. The throat and chest of this species are white; the lower belly is light gray to reddish in color. There is a pair of large pectoral glands *1014*.

REPRODUCTION: Spadefoots breed in shallow, temporary pools formed after extensive rains. They may not breed if weather conditions are unsuitable, but can be found in large numbers following extensive rains *1014*. The male's mating call is a short, explosive, low-pitched "wank". The call is repeated approximately every 2 seconds *1014*. A study in Texas showed that individuals used temporary ponds for breeding and larval development from March to April *11406*. Development is rapid. Transformation from egg to young toad is 20-30 days *1014*. Spadefoots form large aggregations during metamorphosis. This is believed to afford the same predator protection as schooling behavior in fish *11406*. Sexual maturity in both sexes occurs after 1-2 years *11406*.

BEHAVIOR: This is a fossorial species found in sandy lowlands. During dry periods, individuals may be in a state of torpor underground for several weeks. This species can survive severe loss of water, (greater than 40% of body weight) *1014*. This species is nocturnal and borrows into sandy or loose soils *1014* *11407*. It may be found in large numbers during breeding season following intense rain. Breeding occurs in shallow temporary ponds *1014*. This species also forms large aggregations during metamorphosis. This is believed to afford the same predator protection as schooling behavior in fish *11406*. This species' diet consists primarily of insects, other arthropods, and earthworms *11284*.

ORIGIN: Native

LIMITING FACTORS: This species requires shallow temporary ponds formed following intense rain events and will not breed if appropriate conditions do not exist *1014*. It prefers sandy or loose soils due to its propensity to burrow to survive drought *1014* *11407*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: Survivorship in this species has been shown to be negatively density dependent. Record life span for an individual in captivity has been recorded as 12 years *11406*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is abundant in the sandy lowlands of the Coastal Plain and adjacent Piedmont. Its distribution is more scattered in the mountains *1014*. Though it is found in the forested sections of the east, it prefers areas with sandy or loose soils *11407*. It is found in deciduous forests, old fields, pine flatwoods, mixed forests, and coastal pine forests *11284*. Shallow ponds formed following intense rain events are used for breeding and early stages of development *11407* *1014*.

References for Life History

  • 1014 - Martof, B.S., Palmer, W.M., Bailey, J.R., Harrison, III J.R., 1980, Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, 264 pgs., UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11284 - Wilson, L.A., 1995, Land manager's guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the South, 360 pp. pgs., The Nature Conservancy, Southeastern Region, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 11406 - Duellman, William E. and, Trueb, Linda, 1986, Biology of Amphibians, 671 pgs., The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
  • 11407 - Conant, Roger and, Collins, John T., 1998, Peterson Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians, Eastern/Central North America, 616 pgs., Houghton Mifflin Company;, Boston


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