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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Western Spadefoot - Spea hammondii

(Baird, 1859 “1857”)
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Western Spadefoot Range Map
Range in California: Red


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Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot
Adult, San Joaquin County Adult, San Joaquin County Adult, San Joaquin County Adult, San Diego County. © Gary Nafis
Specimen courtesy of Jim Melli
San Diego Natural History Museum
Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot
Juvenile, San Joaquin County Adult, Butte County
© Jackson Shedd
Adult, San Joaquin County
© Mark Gary
Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot
Adult, Kings County
© Patrick Briggs
Adult and juvenile, Kings County
© Patrick Briggs
Pale adult, San Joaquin County © Chad Lane
Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot  
Adult, San Luis Obispo County © Tony Kurz Juvenile, San Luis Obispo County
© Andrew Harmer
 
Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot  
Spade on rear foot Sean Powell runs across the cracked dry bed of a rain pool in San Bernardino County that was full of water in the spring and a breeding area for Western Spadefoots. After an August thunderstorm, hundreds of tiny recently-metamorphosed spadefoots, including the one shown on the right, were found emerging from cracks in the mud. © Christian Powell  
     
Breeding Adults
Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Tadpoles
Male in amplexus with female underwater in daylight, San Joaquin County. In these spadefoots, amplexus is inguinal - the male clasps the female around her pelvis, unlike most of our frogs which use axial amplexus in which the male grasps the female around her forelimbs. Adult male calling, San Diego County
© Chris Gruenwald

Adults in amplexus, Riverside County
© Jeff Ahrens
     
Eggs
Western Spadefoot Eggs Western Spadefoot Eggs Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Eggs
Egg masses found attached to spike rush at or just below the water surface at sites with depths of 18-24 inches. Large (~0.5 acre) ephemeral constructed livestock watering basin in Monterey County. Site is near an arroyo with abundant loose sandy substrate. © Pete Trenham Eggs on a stick out of breeding pool, Orange County © Jeff Ahrens Eggs in breeding pool, San Luis Obispo County © Andrew Harmer
Western Spadefoot Eggs Western Spadefoot Eggs Western Spadefoot Eggs  
These eggs were found attached to green vegetation (moss?) floating above a pair of adult spadefoots in amplexus in
San Joaquin County. There was a similar group of eggs next to the pair.
 
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles  
Eggs in breeding pool, Riverside County
© Jeff Ahrens
Tadpoles errupting from eggs, Riverside County © Jeff Ahrens  
     
Tadpoles
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles
Tadpoles feeding in a turbid rain pool, Alameda county Tadpole, Riverside County
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles
Tadpole, Riverside County Tadpole, Riverside County Tadpole, Riverside County Tadpole, Riverside County
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles
Mature tadpole, Orange County
© Jeff Ahrens Animal capture and handling authorized under SPC or specific authorization from CDFW.
Tadpole, Riverside County Tadpole, Riverside County Metamorphosing tadpole, Monterey County (captured and handled under state Scientific Collecting Permit and released at point of capture.)
© Adam Clause
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles
Tadpole, Kings County © Patrick Briggs Mature tadpole, Monterey County © Rob Schell
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles  
Recently metamorphosed juvenile with tail, Kings County  © Patrick Briggs Recently metamorphosed juvenile with tail, San Diego County
© PuraVidaAquatic.com
 
Western Spadefoot Tadpoles Western Spadefoot Tadpoles    
Tadpole preyed upon by some type of aquatic larva, perhaps that of a water beetle or a dragonfly, Orange County © Jeff Ahrens    
     
Habitat
Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat
Brteeding habitat, slow creek,
San Joaquin County
Breeding habitat, rain pools, Alameda County Shallow breeding pool with tadpoles,
San Diego County
Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat
Breeding habitat, Riverside County Breeding pool, Butte County Habitat, Glenn County
Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat
Breeding pool, Butte County
© Jackson Shedd
Habitat, Butte County
© Jackson Shedd
Habitat, San Joaquin County Breeding pool, San Luis Obispo County, © Andrew Harmer
Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat Western Spadefoot Habitat
Habitat, San Joaquin County Breeding habitat trampled by irresponsible off-road vehicle activity, Butte County
Habitat, San Diego County Breeding habitat, Riverside County
       
Short Videos
Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot Western Spadefoot tadpole Western Spadefoot Tadpole
A male and a female spadefoot in amplexus underwater in a breeding area of a rocky creek bed in San Joaquin County. You can also see some eggs by the pair and floating nearby. (The first shot is of the female after the male left her.) A tiny juvenile spadefoot, which probably transformed about 2 - 3 months earlier, is found crossing a road at night in San Joaquin County. Disturbed by our lights, it started digging into the ground in typical spadefoot fashion - using the hind legs to dig and slowly sinking down backwards to hide. But it could not dig deep enough due to the hard ground, so it hopped away into the dry grass. Tadpoles in muddy rain puddles in Riverside County in early April. Western Spadefoot tadpoles swim and feed in a murky rain puddle in Alameda County. The have to eat as much as possible so they will grow large enough to transform into terrestrial spadefoots before the puddle completely dries up.
Watch more video of this spadefoot at naturebytesvideo.com
     
       
Description
 
Size
Adults are 1.5 - 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (3.8 - 6.3 cm). (Stebbins & McGinnis, 2012)

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 glossy black spade shaped like a wedge or teardrop is present on each hind foot.
Parotoid glands are not present.
Color and Pattern
Color is greenish, brown, cream, or gray above, often with 4 irregular light stripes and dark blotches on the back,
and reddish spots at tips of skin tubercles.
Unmarked and whitish below.
Eyes are pale gold with vertical pupils.
Larvae (Tadpoles)
Tadpoles can grow up to 3 inches in length (7.5 cm.) but typically they transform at a smaller size.
Color is olive-brown, gray, greenish black with a pale irridescent vent.

Life History and Behavior
Activity
Nocturnal. 
Almost completely terrestrial, entering water only to breed.

This spadefoot is able to inhabit hot dry environments by burrowing underground uning the hardened spades on its hind feet.
Rarely seen, spending most of its life buried underground in earth-filled burrows, and active for only a short period each year, typically between October to May, depending on rainfall. Occasionally emerges during rains at other times of the year. The burrows are probably away from the dried breeding pool.
Defense
Skin secretions smell like peanuts, and probably deter predators. They can cause a runny nose and watery eyes in humans.
Territoriality
There is little evidence of territorial behavior.
Longevity
Unknown.
Voice (Listen)
The call of the Western Spadefoot is a short loud trill, like a quick snore, lasting less than one second.
Males call at night while floating on the water, often in large aggregations.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a variety of invertebrates, including adult beetles, larval and adult moths, crickets, flies, ants, and earthworms.
Probably consumes enough in several weeks to survive the long period of underground dormancy.
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.

Males are probably ready to breed 1 - 2 years after metamorphosis, females probably mature the second breeding season after metamorphosis.

Breeding takes place after heavy rainfall and the formation of temporary shallow rain pools, typically from January to May, peaking in February and March, but this spadefoot is an opportunistic breeder, physiologically capable of breeding at any time if conditions are favorable. (Ervin & Cass, 2007).
Breeding typically occurs 1 - 2 days after heavy rains, sometimes as few as one or two nights each year at a particular location. There may be additional breeding during later rains.

Adults emerge from their underground refuges and move to the breeding pool. Pools do not always occur in the same place each year, so the adults may be scattered at a distance from the pool. The loud calls of the first male to enter the pond quickly attract other males and females. During dry years, breeding pools may not form at all and breeding will not take place.

To be suitable for the successful transformation of larvae, temporary breeding pools must last for at least 30 days. If pools dry up before 30 days, larvae will not survive. Breeding sites include vernal pools and other temporary rain pools, cattle tanks, and occasionally in pools of intermittent streams.
Eggs
Females lay 300 - 500 eggs in irregular groups of 10 - 42 eggs, which are attached to underwater vegetation or detritus.
Eggs hatch very quickly, typically in 3 - 4 days, but they may hatch anywhere from a little over half a day to 6 days later.
Tadpoles and Young
Tadpoles transform in 4 - 11 weeks, depending on food availability and the duration of the pool.
Larvae will delay transformation to take advantage of a long-lasting pool with lots of available food.

Newly transformed juveniles leave the breeding pool a few days after metamorphosis, moving at night.
Where they go and how they survive the dry conditions present when they transform when rain is scarce, are not understood.

Habitat
Prefers open areas with sandy or gravelly soils, in a variety of habitats including mixed woodlands, grasslands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, sandy washes, lowlands, river floodplains, alluvial fans, playas, alkali flats, foothills, and mountains. Rainpools which do not contain bullfrogs, fish, or crayfish are necessary for breeding.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California and northern Baja California. Ranges from near Redding south throughout the Great Valley and its associated foothills, through the South Coast Ranges into coastal southern California south of the Transverse mountains and west of the Peninsular mountains, into northwest Baja California.
Elevational Range
From near sea level up to 4,500 ft. (1365 m) in San Diego County mountains.

Notes on Taxonomy
For many years S. hammondii was grouped with spadefoots from Arizona through New Mexico into western Texas and Oklahoma, with the California subspecies called Scaphiopus hammondii hammondii.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This spadefoot has lost an extensive amount of habitat in the central valley due to urban and agricultural development of land that formerly supported the formation of temporary rain pools. It is estimated to be gone from almost 80 percent of its former habitat along the south coast. Formerly present in much of lowland southern California including the Los Angeles coastal plain, but is now absent from the area. Mosquito fish introduced into vernal pools also threaten some populations.
Taxonomy
Family Pelobatidae Spadefoot Toads and Relatives Cope, 1865
Genus Spea Western Spadefoots Cope, 1866
Species hammondii Western Spadefoot

(Baird, 1859 “1857”)
Original Description
(Baird, 1859) - Rep. Pacif. R.R. Survey, Vol. 10, Williamson's Route, Pt. 4, No. 4, p. 12, pl. 28, fig. 2 ["1857" 1859]

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Spea - speos - Greek for cave, cavern
hammondii -
honors Hammond, John F.

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

Alternate Names
Scaphiopus hammondii hammondii - Western Spadefoot

Related or Similar California Frogs
Scaphiopus couchii
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.

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.


Storer, Tracy I. Amphibia of California, University of California Press, 1925.

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

Ervin, Edward L. and Timothy L. Cass. Herpetological Review 38 (2) 2007.


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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