Secretive toads hide out in Vernal
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists in Uintah County recently identified one of Utah's most secretive and interesting animals. A new population of Great Basin spadefoot toad was found east of Vernal.
"This species is not considered endangered; they are just difficult to find," said Kevin Christopherson, UDWR biologist. "Documenting populations like this is important to better understand the general well being of our little understood wildlife species."
The University of California at Berkeley first identified this elusive species in Uintah County in 1933. Only 28 specimens have been identified in Uintah County over the last 70 years.
"They are difficult to find because these desert dwellers use the small "spade" on their heels to dig down and hibernate during long dry spells," Christopherson said. "They can dig down 15 feet and secrete a gelatinous cocoon to keep themselves moist. In spring, after a good storm, they will come to the surface to breed. We visited this site several times over the last two years and never saw a toad or tadpole. With the good snow pack and spring rains this year, they [tadpoles] appeared in good numbers."
To survive the harsh desert climate, the spadefoot toad has adapted to breed, hatch and metamorphose very quickly. An adult female will lay up to 250 eggs in shallow water. The transformation from tadpole to adult can occur in 30 days, one of the most rapid transformations of any amphibian.
Spadefoot toads are not considered true toads and are unique to the frog and toad group. They are like the true toads because they only need water for breeding, but they have smoother skin and vertical pupils, characteristics common to frogs. Vertical pupils are common on nocturnal animals, such as cats and frogs. The pupils appear vertical in bright light, but open up at night to allow more light into the eye. Spadefoot toads feed at night on insects and spiders.
"This new Uintah population is particularly unique because it is located over 8,200 feet in elevation," Christopherson said. "Prior to this find, all known populations in the area were below 7,500 feet.
"There are two other toad species in the northeastern Utah, the very common Woodhouse toad and the rare Boreal toad," Christopherson said. "Boreal toads are only found at higher elevations."
If you have any questions, or have seen toads in the area above 8,000 feet, please call Christopherson at (435) 781-5315.