Lee Richardson Zoo

Plains Spadefoot Toad

Order – Anura –frogs and toads

Family – Pelobatidae – archaic toads

Scientific Name:Spea  bombifrons


Description:  Adults reach lengths of 1.5 to 2.5 in.  These toads have moist skin, round snouts, and eyes that are vertically slit when exposed to strong light.  The most distinguishing characteristic of all spadefoot toads is the black spur located at the base of each hind foot.  In color, this species is light to medium gray with irregular dark markings, and two poorly defined light lines down the back.  The belly is white.  Males have a dark throat, and females have a heavier body type than males.  The call is a nasal sawing sound, or the sound of squeaky new shoes.


Home Range:  North America, from Manitoba and Alberta, Canada, southward to Chihuahua, Mexico; scattered populations exist in the United States in southern Texas and New Mexico.


Habitat Type:  Since loose soil or sand is easier for burrowing, they primarily inhabit dry grasslands and farmland as loose soil or sand is easier to burrow into.


Reproductive Habits:  These toads will emerge to breed after the first heavy spring rain.  They breed as soon as possible so that the young will have a chance to develop before the temporary bodies of water dry up.   Because the young must develop quickly, the development of eggs and tadpoles is shorter than any known toad or frog.  The transformation to land-dwelling sub-adults may occur in as few as 12-13 days.  To breed, males gather around ditches, puddles, and other bodies of water.  Together, they will emit a sound called a chorus which attracts females.  The males mount the females and fertilize the eggs in the water.  The female may lay up to 2,000 eggs that become attached to partly submerged vegetation and other objects. After eggs hatch, metamorphosis can occur at varying times.


Diet in Wild:  Beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, and other small invertebrates.  Under crowded conditions, larvae have been known to cannibalize each other.


Diet in Zoo:  2 crickets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


General Info:  This species of toad manages to survive in dry conditions by burrowing into moist sand.  The toad uses its “spades” on the back of each hind leg to scoop out soil as it spirals backwards out of site.  Once underground, the toad may make a moisture-retaining cocoon that consists of several layers of shed skin.  They generally come out at night to feed and mate; however, the Plains spadefoot may not come out at all during periods of drought. The spadefoot toad’s eggs hatch in only two days! 


Predators:  Larger mammals, birds and reptiles.


Conservation Status: Although not endangered, population is declining due to habitat destruction.  Considered rare.




Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. 1993. Joseph T. Collins. University of Kansas Press. Lawrence, KS.  Pp. 47-49.


The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians.  1979. John L. Behler, et al. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. P. 363.


A Guide to Field Identification:  Amphibians of North America. 1978. Hobart M. Smith.  Golden Press. New York. Pp. 32-34.


Keeping and Breeding Amphibians. 1993. Chris Mattison.  Blanford Publishing, London.  p. 133.


Peterson Field Guides:  Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America.  Third Edition. 1991.  Roger Conant et al.  Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston.  P. 302.  


Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Vol. 6, 2nd ed. 125pp.