Eastern Spadefoot

Photo by Jeff Hall

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Scientific Name: Scaphiopus holbrookii
Classification: Nongame species
Abundance: Most common in Coastal Plain & Piedmont (blue)



Eastern spadefoot (Photo by: Melissa McGaw)

Eastern spadefoot (Photo by: Jeff Hall)

Eastern spadefoot tadpoles (Photo by: Jeff Hall)



The eastern spadefoot call is a low-pitched grunt, often said to resemble a crow or bleating sheep.

Additional Information

The eastern spadefoot is a small- to medium-sized, stocky toad with relatively smooth skin and large eyes with veritical pupils. Other toads have horizontal pupils. The spadefoot is usually some shade of brown or gray with a pair of irregular yellow lines running down its back. On the back of each hind foot, the eastern spadefoot has a black, sickle-shaped structure, the "spade," which helps the toad dig backwards.
Spadefoots are most common in areas of sandy or loose soil in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont. They spend most of their lives underground in burrows they dig, emerging during heavy rains to breed. They lay eggs in temporary pools, and the dark brown tadpoles grow very rapidly, requiring only 2 to 4 weeks to transform. They breed in any season, and are called "explosive" breeders, with all reproduction taking place on a few rainy nights each year.

Many people have reported severe allergic reactions to the skin-gland secretions of spadefoot toads; washing hands thoroughly after handling a spadefoot is recommended.

The Eastern spadefoot is classified as a nongame species with no open season. It is unlawful for any person to take, or have in possession, any nongame mammal or bird unless that person has a collection license or is collecting fewer than 5 reptiles or fewer than 25 amphibians that are not endangered, threatened, or special concerned species.

There are no reported problems with this species. 

Frogs and toads can be monitored fairly easily in a variety of ways. One way is through frog call monitoring. The North Carolina Calling Amphibian Survey Program attempts to do just that by corralling data collected by volunteers across the state that monitors specific frog call routes. Each species of frog and toad has a unique call that is distinguishable from others.  Some are more difficult for humans to separate than others, but the frogs know who’s who!  Learn your frog calls, and you too can distinguish who’s calling in the ponds.  Another way to monitor frogs and toads is by looking for egg masses deposited in wetlands and/or by looking for tadpoles in those same wetlands. Different frogs breed at different times of the year, so when to look for eggs is dependent on the species of interest. Eggs typically hatch within a couple weeks of being deposited, so there is a fairly short window for detection. Frog eggs can sometimes be identified to family, but are somewhat tricky to identify to species level.  Tadpole identification can be similarly tricky, so learning and listening to frog calls is definitely the easiest method for determining what frogs and toads are using a wetland. Tadpoles are a little easier to monitor, as most species have tadpoles present in wetlands for longer periods of time. This is, again, variable by species.  Most species have tadpole stages that last at least several months, but the range in timing for different species is everything from a couple of weeks to several years.  The smaller frog and toad species tend to have shorter tadpole cycles, while the larger frogs and toads tend to have longer times to metamorphosis.