Monday, February 27, 2017

Episode 357 (2-27-17): The Eastern Spadefoot’s Underground Digs Make This Amphibian a Virginia Scientific Challenge

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:49)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 2-24-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of February 27, 2017.

This week, we feature another mystery sound, from an amphibian whose population details remain, in fact, mysterious, even to herpetologists, the scientists who study amphibians and reptiles.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds, and see if you can guess what’s making this call.  And here’s a hint: to guess this name, combine a Virginia sunrise’s direction, a playing card suit or garden tool, and what’s in your shoe.

SOUNDS - ~12 sec

If you guessed an Eastern Spadefoot, you’re right!  This animal—which some references consider a kind of frog, and others a kind of toad—is one of seven spadefoot species in North America, but the only one found east of the Mississippi River.  It’s 2-to-3 inches long, brownish with two yellow back stripes, and with vertically-oriented pupils, in contrast to the more horizontal pupils of other frogs and toads.  But a spadefoot’s most characteristic features are hard, spade-like projections on the hind feet, with which the animal can burrow into sand or other loose soil in order to avoid dry conditions.

In Virginia from early March through spring, Eastern Spadefoots typically emerge in large numbers after heavy rains to breed in seasonal wetlands, flooded fields, or other temporarily wet areas.  They’re mostly known in the Coastal Plain, but much remains unknown about this species’ distribution and habits in the Commonwealth.  That’s why scientists Jason Gibson, at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, and Travis Anthony, at J. Sargent Reynolds Community College in Richmond, are leading a project in 2017 to learn more about the Eastern Spadefoot in Virginia.  Collaborating with the Virginia Herpetological Society and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, they’re inviting other Virginians to participate, too, by watching and listening for this secretive creature, and by submitting information on any encounters.  To learn more about the project, or to submit spadefoot observations, e-mail, or

Thanks to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and to Lang Elliott’s NatureSoundStudio for permission to use the Eastern Spadefoot sounds.

SOUND - ~5 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.   Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The Eastern Spadefoot sounds were from “The Calls of Virginia Frogs and Toads” CD copyright 2008 by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and Lang Elliott/NatureSoundStudio, used with permission.   The calls CD is part of the VDGIF’s A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia.   For more information, visit, or contact VDGIF at 4010 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23230; phone: (804) 367-1000 (VTDD); e-mail:  Lang Elliott’s work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.
More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Poster from Jason Gibson (Patrick Henry Community College, Martinsville, Va.) and Travis Anthony (J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, Richmond, Va.) promoting their project to learn more about the Eastern Spadefoot in Virginia. Accessed at the Virginia Master Naturalists Web site,, on 2/27/17.


From the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), “Eastern spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii),” online at

“This is the only spadefoot east of the Mississippi River. Spadefoots have a sharp, black spade on each hind foot for burrowing into sand or loose soil.   They also have inconspicuous paratoid glands (the bumps on the top of a toad’s head), few warts, and vertically elliptical pupils. ...It is usually brown, sometimes yellowish or quite dark, often mottled, with two light, yellowish, dorsal stripes extending from the eye down the back.  The throat and breast are white and the belly is tinged with gray. The eyes are large and protruberant.  This species emerges from its burrow only after heavy rain or during wet periods in warmer months.  The eggs are laid on the bottom of a pond in irregular bands 25-55 millimeters (mm) long.  The eggs are 1-2 mm in diameter and hatching occurs in 1.5 to 2 days.  Transformation occurs from 2-8 weeks depending on the temperature and water level. ...This species is usually found in areas characterized by loose sandy soils suitable for burrowing.”


Jason Gibson, “In Search of Spadefoots,” Virginia Master Naturalists Blog, 1/24/17, online at

J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, online at

John D. Kleopfer and Chris S. Hobson, A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia, Special Publication Number 3, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Richmond, 2011.

Bernard S. Martof et al., Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1980, pages 104-5.

Joseph C. Mitchell and Karen K. Reay, Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles of Virginia, Special Publication No. 1, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Richmond, 1999.

New Hampshire Public Television, “Scaphiopodidae—American Spadefoot Toads,” online at

Patrick Henry Community College, online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Eastern spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii),” online at

Virginia Herpetological Society, “Eastern Spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii),” online at; and “New 2017 Eastern Spadefoot Project,” online (as PDF) at

Virginia Wildlife Mapping Web site, online at  This site provides a location for citizens to post their observations about wildlife, including amphibians.  The site is a collaboration of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Master Naturalist Program, and


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  Please see specifically the “Amphibians” subject category.

For another episode on herpetological (amphibians and reptiles) research, please see Episode 69, 6/20/11, “Herp Blitz,” a Virginia Herpetological Society large-scale survey in 2011.  The Society does various surveys each year.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Scientific Investigation, Reasoning, and Logic Theme
SOLs for gathering and analyzing data for appropriate ages; possibly 1.1, 2.1, 3.1, 4.1, 5.1, and 6.1.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 - life cycles.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
5.5 - cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 - organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.

Biology Course
BIO.6 - bases for modern classification systems, including structures, biochemistry, and developmental stages.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2008 Social Studies SOLs:

Civics and Economics Course
CE.7 – government at the state level.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs, which become effective in the 2017-18 school year:

Civics and Economics Course
CE.7 – government at the state level.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at