A toad's disappearing act, caught on camera



It was a chilly morning on Montana’s eastern prairie. The sun still lay below the horizon as I walked along a dried-up riverbed in search of amphibians and reptiles. I was conducting wildlife surveys for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Suddenly, a movement on the ground caught my eye. I looked down and spied an odd little shape camouflaged against the sandy soil: It was a Plains spadefoot toad (Spea bombifrons).

Spadefoot toads are named for the hard, wedgeshaped pads on their hind feet. The pads function like actual shovels, helping them burrow down into soft soils, where they spend much of the year lying dormant. But for a few weeks every year—usually between May and August—they emerge to reproduce and forage. Up to this point, I’d only heard the snore-like breeding calls of the males during nighttime surveys.

Now I was finally seeing a spadefoot—but not for long. To my surprise, it began to shift side-to-side with its hind legs, sinking further into the ground with each movement. Just before it was completely covered, it paused. I quickly raised my camera and took this image of just the toad’s eye reflecting my silhouette and the glow of a new day.

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