AmphibiaWeb - Scaphiopodidae


(Translations may not be accurate.)


7 species in 2 genera

Commonly Called Spadefoot Toads

Scaphiopus couchii
Photo by David B. Wake
(Click for family gallery)

This group was formerly part of the family Pelobatidae. Scaphiopodids plus Pelobatids are collectively known as the Spadefoot Toads, owing to a keratinized digging spade present on each hindfoot. These medium-sized (50 - 80 mm snout-vent length) toads are desert dwellers, spending considerable time underground each year until the rains arrive. At that point they rapidly move to the surface and breed explosively in temporary pools. Tadpole development is extraordinarily rapid in this group.

News Highlight:
November 6, 2017: Spadefoot toads (Scaphiopodidae, Pelobatidae) are noteworthy for their divergent larval periods and responsiveness to pond drying. A study by Kulkarnie et al. (2017) compared hormonal variation underlying these differences. In response to pond drying, Pelobates cultripes and Spea multiplicata accelerate metamorphosis, increase standard metabolic rate (SMR), and elevate whole-body content of thyroid hormone and corticosterone. In contrast, Scaphiopus couchii, with the shortest larval period, highest whole-body thyroid hormone and corticosterone content, and highest SMR, is least affected. Their findings support the hypothesis that the atypically rapid and canalized development of S. couchii evolved by genetic accommodation of endocrine pathways which control metamorphosis, thus showing how phenotypic plasticity within species can evolve into trait variation among species. (DW)
Written by AmphibiaWeb

Notable Family Characteristics

  • Fossorial, except to breed
  • Inhabits deserts and other arid regions
  • Breeding is highly seasonal, and large numbers surface with rains to breed and lay eggs in temporary water bodies
  • Morphological features include a keratinous, spadelike metatarsal tubercle with a well-ossified prehallux, used to burrowing and digging
  • Distributed widely in North America
Scaphiopodidae Richness map

Cartography Credit: Zoe Yoo, UC Berkeley
Range maps sources: AmphibiaWeb, UC Berkeley, and IUCN RedList

Relevant Reference

Pough, F. H., R. M. Andrews, M. L. Crump, A. H. Savitzky, K. D. Wells, and M. C. Brandley. 2015. Herpetology. Fourth Edition. Massachusetts: Sinauer.

Vitt, L. J., and J. P. Caldwell. 2013. Herpetology. An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Fourth Edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Genus Scaphiopus (3 species)
Scaphiopus couchii account photos sound/video
Scaphiopus holbrookii account photos no sound/video
Scaphiopus hurterii account photos no sound/video

Genus Spea (4 species)
Spea bombifrons account photos no sound/video
Spea hammondii account photos no sound/video
Spea intermontana account photos sound/video
Spea multiplicata account photos sound/video

Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: (Accessed:

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