All Things Reptile - Today we have a guest of honor! Although it is not a reptile (it’s an amphibian), I believe the Couch’s Spade Foot Toad (Scaphiopus couchii) deserves a column. As many of you know, here in LV/ES we have had a rainy September so far, with one tropical storm and a hurricane already. Although this can cause problems for humans, the local toads need the summer rains to reproduce.
A little over a week ago, we had our first big rain of the year on my family’s property in El Sargento. It rained all night. When I looked out my window, I saw that our road was a river! As I left my camper, I immediately heard a chorus from our lovely neighbors: the toads. I ran down our street to find that one of our friend’s yards had become a lake, which I christened “Lake Driveway.” It was brimming with Couch’s Spade Foot Toads. Over the next few hours, the toads called and called and called, with toads seemingly materializing out of nowhere. These rainfalls are the toads’ only chance to reproduce for the entire year, in most cases.
Then, as quickly as it started, it was over; by the afternoon, most of the toads had disappeared. However, what came next was even more exciting. Since water never lasts long in the desert, Couch Spade Foot Toads have adapted so that their eggs hatch in an astonishing 15-24 hours, and the tadpoles grow into toads in as little as 9 days.
The next morning, I headed to a smaller pool on the next lot up from Lake Driveway that was shrinking fast. The sun was coming out and I could tell the pool would probably not even last a few hours. It was full of hatchling tadpoles and I knew that, if I did nothing, the tadpoles would die. Quickly, I got a bin and set up a little tadpole enclosure, scooped up a few (which ended up being like 50), and brought them up to my camper. These young toads will eat just about anything made out of a plant so I experimented and, it turns out, they love lettuce and cucumbers, just like my old guinea pigs. So far, the “puddle pigs” are doing very well.
Over the last few days, I have stopped along roadsides to find puddles full of tadpoles. As these toads can live in temporary, polluted pools in parking lots with cars and trucks driving through them, I believe that Couch’s Spade Foot Toads are some of the toughest amphibians on Earth. Adult spade foot toads are very interesting, too, and I will go over them in a different week’s column.