Just beneath the earth's surface exists an array of life forms, most of which rarely appear to vouch for this claim; what exists beneath our feet, our agricultural equipment and tree roots goes largely unnoticed, and understandably so. One such elusive creature is the Eastern Spadefoot - Scaphiopus holbrookii; or to Futurama fans, the "Hypnotoad".
This bizarre little Anuran (Frog) is a representative of the Scaphiopodidae family, seldom seen or heard due to its fossorial nature. Much like other representatives of its family, Eastern Spadefoots spend the majority of their year underground, only surfacing to forage and breed. Noted for their burrowing ability, they can be found up to 2 meters beneath the earth's surface. That's an impressive feat for a frog that only grows a few inches in length. Each of its hindfeet are equipped with a sickle shaped tubercle, or "spade", which it uses for burrowing. Hence the name "Spadefoot".
There are few amphibians native to the northeast that I enjoy finding more. On a nice rainy night, well over 100 miles from home, these critters occasionally surface from their underground refugia, perhaps to grab a bite, or to make more copies during their breeding season which is more or less undefined. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Eastern Spadefoot Toad is its metamorphic capabilities. While metamorphosis for most amphibians takes months or even years to complete, Eastern Spadefoot eggs can hatch within 24 hours and metamorphose into their terrestrial form in as soon as 14 days. Newly transformed "toadlets" measure no more than half an inch long, and feed on invertebrates in proximity to their breeding pools before embarking on a life underground amongst the worms and scarab grubs.
As is the case for many amphibians, habitat destruction and road mortality are leading causes to the Eastern Spadefoot's decline in northeastern states. Luckily, the fellow pictured above was discovered before falling victim to the roadway. We gave him a lift to the other side of the road and left him to do his thing. On rainy nights, I encourage you to drive carefully not only for your own well being but for the animals we share the planet with. Amphibians such as the Eastern Spadefoot represent important cogs in the ecological machine. Furthermore, any creature nicknamed the "Hypnotoad" should be cherished and shared with generations to come.
Until next time,