About Spadefoot Toads

What’s a Spadefoot Toad?

Spadefoot toad

The eastern spadefoot toad can grow to a length of 3 inches, and varies in color from yellow to brown. Massachusetts is at the northern end of its range; it occurs as far south as Florida, and as far west as Missouri.

The spadefoot spends most of its life hidden underground. It emerges to breed in vernal pools following heavy rains in spring and summer. Vernal pools are small isolated water bodies that hold water only periodically. Spadefoots prefer the shallowest of pools, between 4” and 12” deep, with few predators and competitors. In order to succeed in these highly restrictive habitats, spadefoots have adapted a very flexible and opportunistic lifestyle. 

The spadefoot’s habitat has suffered heavily from development. People have drained wetlands for farmland and urban development, drawn down water tables that support their vernal pool habitats and have built roads that make for hazardous travel from uplands to breeding pools. As a result, the once-widespread spadefoot is now listed as threatened under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

How can you recognize a spadefoot?

This species’ unique features include:

  • A dark projection on its hind foot, used for digging (the “spade”)
  • Yellow eyes with vertical pupils
  • A vase-like pattern on its back
  • Relatively smooth skin with tiny warts
  • A sheep-like “baaaa” call