Updated: Mar 2, 2021
We love Great Basin Spadefoots!
These unique amphibians have adapted to desert life by using the spades on their feet to burrow underground and wait for periods of rain during the hot dry summer. They can burrow anywhere from 24 cm (9 in) to an astonishing 91 cm (35) inches below the surface!!
But... if they are about a foot or so underground, how can they tell that rain is falling and it is safe to emerge?? If they were to wait until they could sense water in the ground, it is likely that the short desert rainfall would have already finished and the surface already started to dry up. Instead, spadefoots have the amazing ability to sense the the sound and vibrations made by the raindrops as they hit the soil! This was proven by scientists who temporarily captured some New Mexico Spadefoots and allowed them to burrow into a terrarium full of sand. They then created vibrations in the soil that mimicked rainfall (but without any water) and the spadefoots still emerged!
This fascinating adaptation has downfalls when humans around however. There are countless examples of spadefoots emerging after vibrations from nearby cars, ATVs, or other machines mimicked the feeling of rainfall on the soil, causing the spadefoots to waste precious energy climbing up to the surface only to have to burrow right back down again due to lack of adequate water.
How can you help the Spadefoots in your neighborhood?
=Keep natural ponds, seepage areas, and seasonally flooded fields intact. This is where Spadefoots breed, even if water is only present for a few weeks.
=Avoid using fertilizer,herbicides and insecticides if you live near water unless absolutely necessary. These are some of the most prominent water pollutants.
=Conserve water, as too much water use can lead to small breeding pools drying up
=Maintain natural sandy soils and vegetation instead of using sod, gravel, or pavement
=Never release pets into the wild. They usually become very invasive
=If you own livestock, follow Best Management Practices for grazing, as overgrazing can cause soil compaction and prevent spadefoots from digging
=Reduce wetland exposure to contaminants and pollution (e.g. increase vegetation buffers) d