New York Natural Heritage Program
Eastern Spadefoot
Scaphiopus holbrookii (Harlan, 1835)
Amphibians

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The eastern spadefoot is a medium-sized toad with smooth skin and small, scattered warts. Distinguishing characteristics include protruding golden eyes with vertical pupils, two golden dorsal stripes that are in the shape of a lyre, and a sharp-edged, sickle-shaped "spade" on the underside of each hind foot (Klemens 1993; Conant and Collins 1998; Gibbs et al. 2007). The tadpoles are bronze and have a short, rounded, and finely spotted tail (Wright and Wright 1949; Gibbs et al. 2007). The golden dorsal pattern mentioned above is also evident on the tadpoles. The call of breeding males has been described as a coarse "wank, wank, wank..." (Gibbs et al. 2007).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The characters most useful for identification include the protruding golden eyes with vertical pupils, two golden dorsal stripes that form the shape of a lyre, and a sharp-edged, sickle-shaped "spade" on the underside of each hind foot (Klemens 1993; Conant and Collins 1998; Gibbs et al. 2007).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]
Adults are most easily identified, although newly metamorphosed individuals have a similar appearance to adults and can also be distinguished as spadefoots.

Behavior [-]
Eastern spadefoots are fossorial; that is, they are adapted to digging and can remain underground for weeks or months at a time during dry periods. Adults are nocturnal, with peaks of activity just after sundown and before sunrise (DeGraaf and Rudis 1981), especially after warm wet periods in the spring and the summer. Breeding aggregations usually occur after heavy rains, often in spring or summer in the north, but they have been recorded in February (small numbers), March, June, September, and October in Florida (Greenberg and Tanner 2004). These breeding aggregations may include dozens to hundreds of adults in single pools, where clutches of up to 2,500 eggs are laid in several batches. The eggs hatch in two days to two weeks. The aquatic larvae metamorphose into the terrestrial form in two to eight weeks (Greenberg and Tanner 2004). In Florida, the maximum lifespan was estimated to be seven years (Greenberg and Tanner 2005). Adults may migrate up to several hundred meters between breeding pools and nonbreeding terrestrial habitats.

Diet [-]
Metamorphosed toads eat various small terrestrial invertebrates. Larvae eat plankton initially, and later feed on small aquatic invertebrates and sometimes other amphibian larvae, including conspecifics.
Eastern Spadefoot Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Although early and late sight records on Long Island range from early to late April and early September (Burnley 1971), respectively, the best time to see eastern spadefoot toads is at night during or after heavy rains that coincide with the breeding season.
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Present Active Reproducing
The time of year you would expect to find Eastern Spadefoot present (blue shading), active (green shading) and reproducing (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Fowler's Toad (Bufo fowleri)
    In contrast to the eastern spadefoot, Fowler's toads have two tubercles on the underside of each hind foot, instead of the single "spade" of the spadefoot. They have three or more well-developed warts within each of the largest dark spots and do not have the lyre-shaped dorsal pattern. Fowler's toads also have ridges and parotid glands, which are lacking in eastern spadefoots. The pupils are horizontally oval (Conant and Collins 1998).
  • American Toad (Bufo americanus)
    In contrast to the eastern spadefoot, American toads have two tubercles on the underside of each hind foot, instead of the single "spade" of the spadefoot. They have one to two well-developed warts within each of the largest dark spots and do not have the lyre-shaped dorsal pattern. American toads also have ridges and parotid glands, which are lacking in eastern spadefoots. The pupils are horizontally oval (Conant and Collins 1998).