Threatened Eastern Spadefoot Disappears

Threatened Eastern Spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii)

The Eastern spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii) is a rare species in New England, listed as either threatened or endangered in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Most often encountered during warm spring rains when they raucously and frenetically engage in mating, spadefoots had evaded our late summer and early fall hatchling searches for decades  until this Wednesday.  They surprised us as we patrolled a diamondback terrapin nesting site, looking for hatchling emergence holes and tracks of emerging hatchlings.  The weather was gray overcast with an occasionaly light drizzle with the temperature in the mid-60s.

Faux “Emergence Hole” Proves to Be a Toad Burrow

The best way to identify a hatching terrapin nest is to spot an emergence hole from which the first babies escape.  As we crisscrossed sandy dunes abutting a lush salt marsh, Sue Wieber Nourse discovered an “emergence hole.”  As she gently excavated the hole to examine the egg chamber with her fingertips, she surprisingly felt a soft spongy critter rather than hard shells or egg shards.  What looked exactly like a dune terrapin emergence hole proved to be a spadefoot burrow.

Spadefoot (Left) and Fowler’s Toad (Right)

Sue Wieber Nourse encountered three more nearly identical “emergence holes” in these dunes, one occupied by another spadefoot and two holding Fowler’s toads.  These tiny toads were all the same size, less than two inches long.

Spadefoot Distorted “Hourglass” Design

Each of the spadefoots had the characteristic distorted hourglass design on their backs and stared back at us with cat-like rather than toad-like eyes.

Eponymous Spadefoot “Spades”

They also sported an eponymous dark, sharp “spade” on the bottom, interior side of each back limb (see above).

Closeup of Eponymous Spadefoot “Spade”

The image above presents a closeup view of the left rear limb with a clear view of the dark, sharp eponymous “spade” that lends its name to this species.


Eastern Spadefoot Disappears Under the Sand

This film clip offers an excellent perspective on how the spadefoot uses these sharp rear “spades” to dig backwards into the sand and to disappear from sight in little over two minutes.

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