Discover your sleepy neighbors, the ones who spend most of their lives underground.
Male red-spotted toad calling on all female toads in West El Paso, Texas. Photo
by Rick LoBello
Ever wonder why the desert seems so barren with few animals in sight? It is not because they do not exist; after all you can see pictures of desert animals in books and on the TV and Internet. The reason why you don’t see them everyday is because you are either too busy driving down the road to stop and go outside and look for them, or because they are hiding from the desert sun waiting just for the right weather conditions to search for food and mates.
The Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world with thousands of known species of wildlife and plants including reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates, cacti and more. One group of desert animals that you hear very little about are the desert toads. If described on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most out of mind, El Pasoans would probably rank desert toads as a 10. With all the development going on in El Paso frogs in our area need our help more than ever. Once a piece of land is graded most biological organisms living in the soil structure are destroyed. No one knows how to recreate what nature has taken thousands of years to create so you can imagine how many living things are affected.
Here in El Paso we have three common frog and toad species. The most common is the red-spotted toad. They are often seen hopping around neighborhoods as soon as temperatures warm up. The red spots are very prominent and it’s hard to confuse a red-spotted toad with other species. Like all of our frogs red-spotted toads spend the cooler and dryer parts of the year underground waiting for the rainy season and for temperatures to warm up.
Another common species, the Couch’s spadefoot toad, has little black spade projections on its hind feet to help the toad burrow underground. Right now as you sit at your computer and read this blog there are literally thousands of spadefoot toads waiting beneath the soil surface a foot or so below in a state of estivation. This form of sleep is different from hibernation that occurs with some animals during the winter. Estivation is a state of inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate entered in response to high temperatures and arid conditions during the summer. So when it dries up after summer rains most of desert toads estivate. When conditions are right with warmer temperature and heavy rains they come out of the ground focused on eating and breeding. In some areas it may seem like its raining toads! You can see a great video I took of breeding Couch’s spadefoot toads and red-spotted toads a few years ago here in El Paso on YouTube.
Woodhouse’s toad by Rick LoBello
Another toad that we have in El Paso is the biggest one of all, the Woodhouse’s toad reaching a length of 5 inches. On rainy summer days and nights it is often seen near the Franklin Canal and near other wet areas. It is very similar to the Texas toad, but does not have a stripe on the back and crests on the head. A female Woodhouse’s toad can lay up to 28,000 eggs! This toad was named for naturalist Samuel Washington Woodhouse who explored the Southwest during the mid 18th Century.
Amphibians play an important role in the food chain as predators of insects and as prey for other animals. They also help people by acting as environmental alarms because their thin skins are especially sensitive to environmental changes. Like so many of the animals that we rarely see and are often misunderstood, frogs and toads need friends. Look for them after summer rains especially at night and do your part to create frog friendly neighborhoods by making places for them to hid from the desert sun.