CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Couch's Spadefoot - Scaphiopus couchii

Baird, 1854
Click on a picture for a larger view



Couch's Spadefoot Habitat in California
Range in California: Red


Listen to this spadefoot:


A short example



observation link



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Couch's Spadefoot Couch's Spadefoot  
Adult, Imperial County
© August 2004 William Flaxington
Adult, Imperial County
© August 2004 William Flaxington
 
     
Couch's Spadefoots From Outside California
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot
Adult female, Pima County, Arizona Adult male, Yuma County, Arizona
Couch's Spadefoot Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Spades Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Spade
Adult, Pima County, Arizona
Digging spades on hind feet Digging spade on hind foot
     
Breeding Adults, Eggs, and Tadpoles
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Calling Male
Adult Male (top) in amplexus with Adult Female (bottom), Brewster County, Texas.
In these spadefoots, amplexus is inguinal - the male clasps the female around her pelvis, unlike most of our frogs which use axial amplexus - the male grasps the female around her forelimbs.
Adult male calling at night while floating on water, Brewster County, Texas
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus
Male and female in amplexus, and single male, Pima County, Arizona Male and female in amplexus,
Pima County, Arizona
Male and female in amplexus,
Pima County, Arizona
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus
Male at night in breeding pond,
Pima County, Arizona
Male at night in breeding pond,
Pima County, Arizona
Male at night in breeding pond,
Pima County, Arizona
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Eggs Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Tadpole Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Tadpole
Eggs laid on grass in shallow water Recently-hatched tadpole, Yuma County, Arizona
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Tadpole    
Recently-hatched tadpole,
Yuma County, Arizona
   
     
California Habitat
Couch's Spadefoot Habitat Couch's Spadefoot Habitat  
Agricultural habitat, Riverside County
© August 2004 William Flaxington
Habitat, rain pool in desert wash, Imperial County © August 2004 William Flaxington  
     
Habitat Outside California
Couch's Spadefoot Habitat Couch's Spadefoot Habitat Couch's Spadefoot Habitat
A breeding pool in a flooded wash, Pima County, Arizona. The night before this picture was taken, dozens of calling  male Couch's Spadefoots lined the banks. Habitat, pools adjacent to an agricultural field, Yuma County, Arizona
Couch's Spadefoot Habitat Couch's Spadefoot Habitat  
A breeding pool in a flooded wash, Pima County, Arizona  
   
Short Videos
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Calling Male Video
Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Video Scaphiopus couchii Couch's Spadefoot Amplexus Video
Male spadefoots call at night from a temporary rain pool.


Male and female spadefoots in amplexus in a temporary rain pool. A group of adult males at night in a breeding pond in Arizona swim around harassing each other. Other male Couch's Spadefoots are calling in the background along with some Lowland Burrowing Treefrogs.
   
Description
 
Size
Adults are 2.25 - 3.6 inches long from snout to vent (5.7 - 9.1 cm).

Appearance
A small stout-bodied toad with short legs and warty skin.
The eyes are wide-set with no boss inbetween.
Pupils are vertical.
A hard black sharp-edghed spade shaped like a sickle is found on each hind foot.
Parotoid glands are not present.
Color and Pattern
Variable in color and pattern, from greenish or brownish yellow to bright green above, with a network of irregular dark markings, or black flecking.
Whitish below.
Male/Female Differences
Males tend to be greener than females with fewer
markings.
Larvae (Tadpoles)
Tadpoles are an irridescent coppery bronze with golden spots or sheen.

Life History and Behavior
Activity
Nocturnal. Newly-transformed juveniles are also active in daylight.

Terrestrial - spending most of its life (around 8 - 10 months each year) buried in the ground, and emerging briefly only during spring and summer rains. Low frequency sounds and vibrations caused by rainfall and thunder apparently stimulate emergence from the soil, rather than soil saturation.  The location of refuge burrows is not known, but it is not thought to be in soil underneath dried up breeding pools.

S. couchii
is more adapted to extremely dry conditions than any other North American amphibian, remaining underground without emerging for as many as two rainless summers.

During the summer, when rain allows surface activity, adults spend days and dry nights in shallow burrows that they dig themselves.

An individual spadefoot digs backwards into the soil using the spades on the hind feet.
Defense
S. couchii releases irritating skin secretions which probably deters predators. These secretions can cause sneezing, running nose, and watery eyes in humans, and extreme irritation if rubbed into the nose or eyes. (After handling a spadefoot then barely touching my eye, the eye swelled up and the other eye watered so badly I was unable to see well for about an hour. Wash your hands very well after handling this spadefoot!)
Territoriality
There is little evidence of territorial behavior.
Longevity
Longevity is estimated to be up to 11 years for males and 13 years for females.
Voice (Listen)
A nasal groan descending in pitch similar to a lamb bleating.
Calls are made at night from the edge of temporary ponds.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a variety of invertebrates, many of which are winged and larval termites which also emerge during rains. Beetles, ants, grasshoppers, spiders, and crickets are also eaten. S. couchii can consume up to 55 percent of their body weight, which can be enough food to last a full year.
Breeding
Reproduction is aquatic.
Fertilization is external, with the male grasping the back of the female and releasing sperm as the female lays her eggs.

The reproductive cycle is similar to that of most North American Frogs and Toads. Mature adults come into breeding condition and the males call to advertise their fitness to competing males and to females. Males and females pair up in amplexus in the water where the female lays her eggs as the male fertilizes them externally. The eggs hatch into tadpoles which feed in the water and eventually grow four legs, lose their tails and emerge onto land where they disperse into the surrounding territory.

Breeding adults are estimated to be from 2 - 10 years old.

Couch's Spadefoots breed explosively during times when scarce desert rainfall creates temporary pools from May through September. Most breeding occurs during the first night after pools form. Adults move up from underground hiding places and travel to the pool where males begin calling while floating on the water. Temporary pools are often in rocky streambeds, washes, at the edges of agricultural fields, in depressions beside roads and railroad tracks, and cattle tanks. In order for the eggs to hatch and larvae to successfully transform, the water needs to remain for a minimum of 7 - 8 days.

(One late afternoon in June in Alpine Texas, as a heavy thunderstorm moved through the area, I watched a dry grassy spot that looked like it had not see rain in months slowly fill with rainwater. In less than an hour after the heavy rain began, when it was still daylight, several male Couch's Spadefoots had emerged and were calling loudly from the shallow water. They called throughout the night. By the morning they were silent.)
Eggs
Females lay a clutch of more than 3,000 eggs, which hatch in less than a day, and tadpoles transform faster than any other North American anurans - in about 7 or 8 days. The duration can depend on the duration of the pool and the food source. Tadpoles will sometimes remain in long-lasting pools, growing very large before they transform.
In California, larvae have been observed entering metamorphosis in 7.5 - 8.5 days.
At a location in West Texas, larvae transformed in 8-16 days.
Tadpoles and Young
Metamorphosed juveniles remain at the breeding pool for a few days, then move into nearby vegetation until the soil dries up, when they burrow into the ground or take refuge in cracks or holes. They emerge, along with adults on rainy nights, to feed, until they enter a permanent refuge for the dry season.

Habitat
Desert and arid regions of grassland, prairie, mesquite, creosote bush, thorn forest, sandy washes.

Geographical Range
In California, this spadefoot occurs in scattered populations east of the Algodones sand dunes in Imperial county, north into San Bernardino county.

Overall, the species occurs from central Texas and southwest Oklahoma, west through north-central New Mexico and south-central Arizona, to extreme southeast California, and south to the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.
Elevational Range
From sea level to 5900 ft. elevation (1800 m).

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
A California Species of Special Concern. Couch's Spadefoot toads are absent from former habitat which has been urbanized or converted to agriculture. But they persist throughout their small range in California. Road and railroad construction and probably agricultural irrigation have increased the number of temporary pools that can be used.

Protected from take with a sport fishing license in 2013.
Taxonomy
Family Pelobatidae Spadefoot Toads and Relatives Cope, 1865
Genus Scaphiopus North American Spadefoots Holbrook, 1836
Species couchii Couch's Spadefoot

Baird, 1854
Original Description
Baird, 1854 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 7, p. 62

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Scaphiopus - Greek - skaphis - shovel or spade and Greek - pous - foot - refers to the shape and adaptation of hind foot for digging
couchii -
honors Couch, Darius N.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
None

Related or Similar California Frogs
Spea hammondii
Spea intermontana

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Degenhardt, William G., Charles W. Painter, & Andrew H. Price. Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Williamson, Michael A., Paul W. Hyder, & John S. Applegarth. Snakes, Lizards, Turtles, Frogs, Toads & Salamanders of New Mexico. Sunstone Press, 1994.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Elliott, Lang, Carl Gerhardt, and Carlos Davidson. Frogs and Toads of North America, a Comprehensive Guide to their Identification, Behavior, and Calls. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

Lannoo, Michael (Editor). Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, June 2005.

Wright, Albert Hazen and Anna Wright. Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1949.


Davidson, Carlos. Booklet to the CD Frog and Toad Calls of the Pacific Coast - Vanishing Voices. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 1995.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.



Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife DFG:SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management BLM:S Sensitive
USDA Forest Service None
 

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