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Great Basin Spadefoot Toad
Spea intermontana

Great Basin Spadefoot Toad
Great Basin Spadefoot Toad

    Land Tenure - Great Basin Spadefoot Toad
  • Spadefoots are distinguished from other frogs by vertical "cat's eye" pupils.
  • Grey or tan with irregular vague stripes and blotches, and small, round, red bumps.
  • Wide, flat body and short legs, adults can reach 6 cm in length.
  • The hind feet have a single, black, hard, spade-shaped knob on the heel for digging.
  • Light tan or grey hatchlings have a broad triangular head, that appears to be distinctly separated from the body.
  • Tadpoles can reach 7 cm in length and are dark with gold flecks forming a conspicuous 'Y' across the body.


British Columbia Blue List
Canada: Vulnerable

Special Significance

The Great Basin Spadefoot Toad is at risk in British Columbia because of its restricted distribution, its dependence on specialized habitats of temporary pools of water in dry regions, and loss of wetland breeding habitat and grassland foraging habitat to urbanization and intensive agriculture. Spadefoots typically breed in small ponds that may dry up by summer. Increased human and agricultural use is presumably responsible for a reduced water table which impacts this specialized toad habitat. While it is protected from capture or killing under the British Columbia Wildlife Act, its habitat remains unprotected. Landowners can help to ensure the continued survival of this amphibian by fencing breeding ponds, stopping stocking of lakes and ponds with game fish, and retaining wetlands and the natural vegetation around them.


  • In Canada, found only in British Columbia mainly in the Okanagan Valley, also in the Kettle, Nicola, Thompson, and Similkameen valleys.
  • Marshes at the north end of Osoyoos Lake and the Osoyoos sewage lagoons are key breeding sites.
  • Spadefoot Toads are restricted to the bunchgrass and ponderosa pine zones.


  • Adults breed in pond edges, marshes, slow moving creeks, stock tanks, irrigation ditches and temporary pools of water.
  • Spadefoots forage in dry shrub-grasslands and open lower elevation forests.
  • Toads require deep, loose soil for burrowing into during daylight hours and during hibernation; they will also use rodent burrows or burrow under rocks or logs.


  • Breeding begins after rains in mid to late April, or as late as July during cool, wet years.
  • Females lay 300-500 eggs in water less than 50 cm deep; egg clusters are often attached to submerged plants.
  • Eggs hatch in 2 to 3 days in warm water, but can take up to 7 days or more during cool weather.
  • Tadpoles mature in 6 to 8 weeks and leave the breeding area, but do not become sexually mature for 2 or 3 years.
  • Toads return to hibernation sites in October.

Food Habits

  • Adult toads eat ants, grasshoppers, beetles and crickets; they forage at night, especially on rainy nights or nights with high humidity.
  • Tadpoles are scavengers on algae, aquatic plants, dead fish and even their own feces; on occasion they will eat each other.

Interesting Facts

  • 'Spades' on their hind feet allow a toad to disappear from a site in minutes!
  • Spadefoots are one of the few desert adapted amphibians, surviving drought by burying themselves and secreting a protective gelatinous coat.
  • Tadpoles can live in water that is as warm as 34°C.
  • Call is a low-pitched quacking.
  • Skin contains toxins which help protect it from predators.


  • Population concentrated in a few large breeding sites makes this species vulnerable to drastic decline if land use changes at these sites.
  • Livestock can trample banks of ponds and lakes which crushes tadpoles and buried adults, limits underground access for toads, degrades plant habitats and lowers water quality.
  • Filling and draining ponds and wetlands destroys breeding habitats.
  • Increasing irrigation and human water consumption may lower the water table and reduce or dry up small breeding pools.
  • Extensive land development has degraded or eliminated shrub-grassland foraging and hibernating habitat.
  • Road kills during migrations to and from breeding areas.
  • Introduced game fish in lakes and ponds compete with toads for food or prey on toads.

Management Considerations

  • Protect major breeding sites and surrounding foraging habitat.
  • Fence ponds and lakes to exclude livestock.
  • Maintain water levels whenever possible.
  • Create ponds to compensate for loss of natural breeding habitat.
  • Install culverts under roads and amphibian fences along roads near areas with high numbers of toads.
  • Do not stock ponds or lakes with game fish.


1. Cannings, R. J. 1997. The status of the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad (Spea intermontana) in Canada. Unpublished report, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
2. Corkran, C.C. and C. R. Thoms. 1996. Amphibians of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia: a field identification guide. Lone Pine Publishing. Vancouver, British Columbia.
3. Green, D.M. and R.W. Campbell. 1984. The amphibians of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 45.


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