The spadefoot is a gray, yellow or olive-green toad with darker markings in colors of black, brown or green. In many species of spadefoot, the toad has a white belly and the males have a dark-colored throat. They have large eyes and grow up to two inches in length.
The spadefoot toad is especially adapted to living in a desert environment, which is unusual for amphibians.
There are various species of spadefoot toads and types of them are found in Europe, North Africa, Asia and North America. Despite the numerous species, most spadefoot toads' life cycles follow a similar pattern.
The toad's name comes from the spade-like appendage on its hind feet. These are used for digging backward. The toad will burrow into the ground during dry weather, staying there for up to a year without eating, waiting for a rain to call it forth from the cool, damp underground.
They are carnivores, eating insects and small invertebrates, but only eating during their brief hiatuses above ground following a heavy rain.
The spadefoot comes out of its underground burrow after a heavy rain to eat and to mate. Male toads gather in ditches, puddles and other small--and usually temporary--bodies of water to sing in an attempt to attract females.
The females will join the males in the water and will swim to them when they call, only to swim away. Eventually the male will clasp the female from the back, which stimulates egg laying.
After mating, the female spadefoot will lay up to 2,000 eggs. The egg sac attaches to partially submerged vegetation or other objects in the water or puddles or ditches. After she has laid her eggs, the male deposits its sperm on them. Within as little as 15 hours, tiny tadpoles will emerge.
After hatching, the tadpole's only chance for survival is to develop into a frog before the puddle dries up. The tadpoles can transform into a frog in 12 to 13 days. This is the fastest metamorphosis known for any frog or toad. The young frog that develops from the tadpole will hurriedly find a meal before digging into the earth to await the next heavy rain.