By: Cholla Rose Nicoll, Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
Dragonfly Pond at the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve is a tiny pool of water most of the year, filling naturally only during the monsoon season. We maintain the water in this little pond year-round by adding water to it daily through a garden hose and timer. Sometimes the water isn't even visible from the road as a patch of cattails now surrounds it. The wildlife knows it's there, though, and on closer inspection, there is a small pool of water always available for animals passing by. This pond is frequently used by wildlife, with 75 documented wildlife trail cam visits from eight different species in June alone. To date, twenty species of animals have been identified at this pond, excluding small birds. The latest species to be added to the list is the Mexican Spadefoot Toad (Spea multiplicata)!
This incredible little amphibian waits until the monsoon is in full swing to emerge from its underground home, where it resides for most of its life. Spadefoot refers to the spade-shaped projections on their hind legs used to dig in and out of the soft earth. Patagonia received incredibly 4.2 inches of rain in the first week of July alone.
Interestingly, it's not the rain that is believed to awaken the Mexican Spadefoot, but the sounds and vibrations created by the accompanying thunder and lightning. Once the toads are on the surface, they quickly feed on bugs and breed taking advantage of the short-lived pools of water created by the summer monsoon.
The males make a distinct call that resembles the sound of a finger running over a stiff comb. The females lay clutches of around 1,000 eggs, which quickly hatch and develop into fully morphed toads in 15 to 50 days. These fantastic creatures are only visible for such a short time that most people never get the chance to see them. Luckily, we just happened to be at the pond during the breeding phase and captured some photos for you to enjoy.
Although the Mexican Spadefoot does benefit from small stock ponds, it does not survive well in heavy development or agriculture. Amphibians face many dire challenges from disease to global climate change and the number one factor loss of habitat. At least 43% of amphibian species are currently in decline worldwide. Arizona has 25 species of native amphibians. Considering the loss of 96% of the state’s surface water over the past 100 years, these animals requiring at minimum seasonal rain are extraordinary when found. So, the next time you are out at Dragonfly Pond, listen carefully for the sounds of toads and use your binoculars to see the birds, but please do not venture too close to the water as you may have a little friend under your feet.
Mexican Spadefoot Toad Tadpoles
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