Overview

Brief Summary

Couch’s spadefoot is a 3 inch, smooth-skinned toad. It can be a greenish, yellowish or olive color with irregular blotches or spots of black, brown or dark green. It has a white belly without markings. At the base of each hind foot is a dark, sickle-shaped keratinous “spade”, hence the name spadefoot. The Couch’s spadefoot does very well in extremely dry conditions in areas with well-drained soils, which are often occupied by creosote bush and mesquite trees. Using the spade on the hind foot, spadefoots can quickly bury themselves in loose, sany soils. Adult spadefoots burrow in the ground to avoid heat. Recently metamorphosed spadefoots may be seen during and immediately after the rainy season in moist places, such as under vegetation, former ponds or moist soil. During this time, young spadefoots need to eat enough food to survive the unfavorable living conditions above the surface of the ground. After eating as much as possible, they too burrow beneath the surface. Breeding may not occur in years with insufficient rainfall. Preying primarily upon beetles, grasshoppers, ants, spiders and termites, a spadefoot can consume enough food in one meal to last an entire year.

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Comprehensive Description

Description

Usually greenish, greenish-yellow, or brownish yellow with blotches of dark spots. Like all members of the family Pelobatidae, S. couchii has a black, keratinized spade on its hind feet. This species can be distinguished by its sickle-shaped spade (Stebbins 1985)

See another account at californiaherps.com.

  • Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Tinsley, R. C. (1995). ''Parasitic disease in amphibians.'' Parasitology, 111(supplement), 25.
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Description

Usually greenish, greenish-yellow, or brownish yellow with blotches of dark spots. Like all members of the family Pelobatidae, S. couchii has a black, keratinized spade on its hind feet. This species can be distinguished by its sickle-shaped spade (Stebbins 1985)

See another account at californiaherps.com.

  • Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Tinsley, R. C. (1995). ''Parasitic disease in amphibians.'' Parasitology, 111(supplement), 25.
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Distribution

Range Description

This species occurs from southeastern California, southeastern Colorado, and central Oklahoma in the USA, to the tip of Baja California, northern Nayarit, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi and northern Veracruz in Mexico.
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Distribution and Habitat

Occurs from southwest Oklahoma, central New Mexico, and south-central Arizona to the tip of Baja California, Nayarit and south San Luis Potosi; southeast California to central Texas. Some isolated populations are in the vicinity of Petrified Forest National Monument and southeast of La Junta, Otero Co., Colorado. Also, some scattered populations in California between Amos and Ogilby on eastern side of Algodones Dunes; Purgatory and Buzzard’s Peak Washes, Imperial Co.

Scaphiopus couchii is often found in shortgrass plains, mesquite savannah, creosote bush desert, thornforest and tropical deciduous forest (west Mexico) and other areas of low rainfall. Information from Stebbins (1985)

  • Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Tinsley, R. C. (1995). ''Parasitic disease in amphibians.'' Parasitology, 111(supplement), 25.
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This species is found in the southwestern United States, extending into Mexico (and including the Baja Peninsula).

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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends from southeastern California, east-central Arizona (Mulcahy and Setser 2002), southeastern Colorado, and central Oklahoma south to southern Baja California, Nayarit, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and northern Veracruz in Mexico (Conant and Collins 1991, Stebbins 2003).

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Distribution and Habitat

Occurs from southwest Oklahoma, central New Mexico, and south-central Arizona to the tip of Baja California, Nayarit and south San Luis Potosi; southeast California to central Texas. Some isolated populations are in the vicinity of Petrified Forest National Monument and southeast of La Junta, Otero Co., Colorado. Also, some scattered populations in California between Amos and Ogilby on eastern side of Algodones Dunes; Purgatory and Buzzard’s Peak Washes, Imperial Co.

Scaphiopus couchii is often found in shortgrass plains, mesquite savannah, creosote bush desert, thornforest and tropical deciduous forest (west Mexico) and other areas of low rainfall. Information from Stebbins (1985)

  • Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Tinsley, R. C. (1995). ''Parasitic disease in amphibians.'' Parasitology, 111(supplement), 25.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Scaphiopus couchii has a stout body and is 2.25 to 3.5 inches (5.6 to 8.8 cm). The color varies from bright green-yellow to brown-yellow. The dorsal surface is mottled with dark green, brown, or black markings, and the dark markings are more extensive in females. The ventral surface is white. The skin is covered with many small warts. The hind limbs have a single, sickle-shaped tubercle, or spade on the inner surface. The pupils are vertical in bright light.

Range length: 2.25 to 3.5 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; radial symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently

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Size

Length: 6 cm

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Type Information

Syntype for Scaphiopus couchii
Catalog Number: USNM 5893
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Preparation: Ethanol
Locality: Cape San Lucas (= Cabo San Lucas), Baja California Sur, Mexico
  • Syntype: Cope, E. D. 1863. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia. 15: 52.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species is commonly found in arid and semi-arid shrublands, short grass plains, mesquite savannah, creosote bush desert, thorn forest, cultivated areas, and tropical deciduous forest (Mexico). Like other Pelobatid species it is considered opportunistic since it appears only when rainfalls form temporary pools. Eggs and larvae develop in these temporary pools. It burrows underground or occupies rodent burrows when inactive.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Scaphiopus couchii lives underground in burrows in grassland prairies and mequite savannas. They dig these burrows in soft earth by backing into the ground and digging with hind feet, which are armed with spades. They rock the body as they dig; dirt falls into the burrows on top of the toads. Scaphiopus couchii seeks shelter under fallen logs and is adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions.

Habitat Regions: terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland

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Comments: Habitat includes arid and semi-arid shrublands, shortgrass plains, mesquite savanna, creosote bush desert, thornforest, cultivated areas, and tropical deciduous forest (Mexico). These toads spend most of their time underground or in rodent burrows, except when rains stimulate activirty and bring them to the surface. Females attach eggs to vegetation in shallow ephemeral water resulting from heavy rains.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Individuals migrate up to several hundred meters between upland habitats and breeding sites.

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Trophic Strategy

Scaphiopus couchii eats mostly insects. Scaphiopus couchii survives ten months of hibernation (during which it does not feed) by utilizing stored lipid reserves predominantly concentrated in coelomic fat bodies.

Animal Foods: insects

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )

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Comments: Metamorphosed toads eat various small terrestrial arthropods. Larvae probably eat organic debris, algae, small aquatic invertebrates, and plant tissue.

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Associations

Scaphiopus couchii is a significant predator in its ecosystem, keeping many kinds of insects (that bother humans) under control.

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Adults of the parasite Pseudodiplorchis americanus infect breeding toads and feed on the host blood during hibernation. Infected toads that emerge from hibernation have smaller fat bodies than those that are uninfected. Fat body weights increase, however, during a period of foraging; there is no measurable effect after two weeks of feeding. A case study by Tocque has suggested that some toads might not breed or survive hibernation due to this parasitic infection. Therefore, there is potential for these parasites to regulate host populations.

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Represented by many and/or large occurrences throughout most of the range.

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Global Abundance

100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely exceeds 100,000.

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General Ecology

Monogenean parasite infection may reduce spadefoot reproduction and/or survival (Tocque 1993).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

In the spring males croak to attract females, calling from the rims of temporary pools.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: choruses

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: Almost all feeding and breeding activity occur during and shortly after heavy spring and summer rains. Otherwise, these toads stay buried in the ground.

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Life Cycle

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
6.7 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 6.7 years (captivity) Observations: There are estimates that most of the breeding population is between 5 and 10 years old, and the maximum longevity may be 13 years for females and 11 years for males (http://amphibiaweb.org/). Further studies are necessary.
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Reproduction

Scaphiopus couchii (like other frogs and toads) breeds only during the warmer seasons of the year. Breeding takes place from April to September, usually in temporary rain pools or temporary overflow areas. When their eggs are mature, the females enter the water and are clasped by the males in a process called amplexus. As the female lays the eggs, the male discharges seminal fluid containing sperm over the eggs to fertilize them. The jelly layers absorb water and swell after fertilization. The eggs are laid in large masses, usually anchored to grass or plant stems. Eggs hatch within 36 hours and the tadpoles develop quickly. After the tadpole has undergone metamorphosis (30 to 40 days after the eggs have hatched), the adult S. couchii is ready to reproduce.

Breeding season: Breeding takes place from April to September

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous

There is no parental investment after egg-laying.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning)

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These toads emerge from the ground and breed explosively after heavy rains in spring or summer. Breeding choruses usually last only 1 day. Females produce a clutch of up to several hundred eggs, divided among several clusters. Eggs and larvae develop quickly, and toadlets leave the pools in only about 1-2 weeks, if breeding pools do not dry up sooner than this. A newly laid Couch's spadefoot egg can develop into a tiny land-dwelling toadlet in only 1-2 weeks.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Scaphiopus couchii

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2004
  • Needs updating

Assessor/s
Georgina Santos-Barrera, Geoffrey Hammerson

Reviewer/s
Global Amphibian Assessment Coordinating Team (Simon Stuart, Janice Chanson, Neil Cox and Bruce Young)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, tolerance of a broad range of habitats, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.
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Because of the life cycles of Scaphiopus couchii (both aquatic and terrestrial stages), the thin, permeable skin and the underground dwelling, this species is especially sensitive to environmental perturbations. Such environmental problems may include acid rain, increasing ultraviolet irradiation, changes in land and water, and other factors. As always, humans must begin taking greater resonsibility for the world around them.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Very narrow to narrow.

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Population

Population
In the USA there are hundreds of occurrences of this species, and it is locally common. Large populations still occur in northern Mexico and even in central Mexico where more human populations exist.

Population Trend
Stable
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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

Scaphiopus couchii burrow backwards into the ground to avoid the heat and desiccation common to desert habitats. Toadlets can often remain active longer than adults which hibernate for 9-10 months out of the year about 1 m below the surface. Adults emerge after annual rains arrive, usually in May, and stay active until September. They breed in ephemeral ponds and feed during this terrestrial period, usually on desert invertebrates for no more than 20 nights. It is not uncommon for this species to exhibit phenotypic plasticity for age at metamorphosis and even cannibalistic morphs.

  • Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Tinsley, R. C. (1995). ''Parasitic disease in amphibians.'' Parasitology, 111(supplement), 25.
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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Global Long Term Trend: Increase of 10-25% to decline of 30%

Comments: Likely relatively stable in extent of occurrence, unknown level of decline in population size, area of occurrence, and number/condition of occurrences.

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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

Scaphiopus couchii burrow backwards into the ground to avoid the heat and desiccation common to desert habitats. Toadlets can often remain active longer than adults which hibernate for 9-10 months out of the year about 1 m below the surface. Adults emerge after annual rains arrive, usually in May, and stay active until September. They breed in ephemeral ponds and feed during this terrestrial period, usually on desert invertebrates for no more than 20 nights. It is not uncommon for this species to exhibit phenotypic plasticity for age at metamorphosis and even cannibalistic morphs.

  • Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
  • Tinsley, R. C. (1995). ''Parasitic disease in amphibians.'' Parasitology, 111(supplement), 25.
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no major threats to this species at present.
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Degree of Threat: Low

Comments: There are no major threats to this species at present.

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Several populations of this species occur in natural protected areas in the USA and Mexico. The populations occurring outside these reserves have been identified as healthy in most of cases.
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Global Protection: Very many (>40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Several populations of this species occur in natural protected areas in the United States and Mexico. The populations occurring outside these reserves have been identified as healthy in most of cases.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

The burrows may make land unsuitable for developing and cultivation purposes.

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Scaphiopus couchii is a significant predator in its ecosystem, keeping many kinds of insects (that bother humans) under control. While S. couchii may not be the typical "laboratory frog", it certainly has research value for the scientific community, especially in the areas of development and adaptations (such as burrowing). Most importantly, S. couchii constitutes a part of the remaining wild animal life of the world and should be appreciated in terms of biodiversity.

Positive Impacts: research and education; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Couch's spadefoot toad

The call of Couch's spadefoot toad

Couch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii) is a species of North American spadefoot toad. The specific epithet couchii is in honor of American naturalist Darius Nash Couch, who collected the first specimen while on a personal expedition to northern Mexico to collect plant, mineral, and animal specimens for the Smithsonian Institution.[2]

Distribution[edit]

Couch's spadefoot toad is native to the United States southwest of southeastern Colorado and central Oklahoma, northern Mexico and the Baja peninsula. They can be found throughout the Sonoran Desert, which includes parts of southern Arizona and California.

Physical description[edit]

Unlike other toads which have horizontal pupils, spadefoot toads have vertical pupils. On the underside of the hind foot is a hard, dark "spade" that gives spadefoot toads their name. These creatures can grow to be 3.5" in length. These "spades" are used by the toads to burrow into the ground to prevent water loss and hide from predators. There are two spadefoot species in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and California. Couch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchi) has a sickle-shaped "spade", whereas the western spadefoot toad (Spea hammondii) has a rounded "spade". Spadefoots are not true toads and should therefore simply be called spadefoots.[3]

Mating and reproduction[edit]

Water is a necessary medium for the fertilization of spadefoot eggs, and once the eggs hatch, water also provides a place for tadpoles to mature to the adult stage. Because of the importance of water, spadefoots are active during the wet season (spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere), and remain underground during the dry season (fall and winter). When a summer thunderstorm arrives, the male toads emerge from underground and look for pools of rainwater. When they find water, the males produce a mating call that attracts female toads. Because the pools of water may be short-lived, mating occurs the first night after rainfall begins.

During reproduction, the male mounts the female and releases sperm to fertilize the eggs, which are deposited in the pools of water in the form of a floating mass. The eggs hatch into tadpoles, which quickly mature into adults. They must reach this stage before the pool of water evaporates, and thus they sometimes mature in as little as 9 days after the eggs are laid. Western spadefoot toads take longer to mature (at least three weeks).

The small pools of water are warmed by the sun, which speeds up the growth of the tadpoles. Tadpoles will eat a variety of foods, such as small insects near the pool and algae, which they scrape off rocks. They also filter microorganisms from the water as it is passed over their gills. Tadpoles gather in wriggling masses, stir up the muck on the bottom of the pool, and filter out the organic nutrients. Unlike most tadpoles, which are exclusively herbivores and filter feeders, spadefoot tadpoles are omnivores. They also eat dead insects and tadpoles, as well as fairy shrimp.


References[edit]

  1. ^ Santos-Barrera, G; Hammerson, G. (2004). "Scaphiopus couchii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2014-10-09. 
  2. ^ Beltz, Ellin (15 January 2007). "Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained". 
  3. ^ Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Couch’s spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchi), http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_spadefoot.php, 2006-2010.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Garcia-Paris et al. (2003) used mtDNA to examine the phylogentic relationships of Pelobatoidea and found that the family Pelobatidae, as previously defined, is not monophyletic (Pelobates is sister to Megophryidae, not to Spea/Scaphiopus). They split the Pelobatidae into two families: Eurasian spadefoot toads (Pelobates), which retain the name Pelobatidae, and North American spadefoot toads (Scaphiopus, Spea), which make up the revived family Scaphiopodidae.

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