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WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Spea intermontana
Adult in Franklin County, Washington. Photo by Gary Nafis.


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Spea intermontana
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Howard, Janet L. 1996. Spea intermontana. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions : On 21 June 2014, the scientific name of this species was changed in FEIS from: Scaphiopus intermontanus Cope [2,7,18] to: Spea intermontana (Cope) [21,22]. The Frost [21] and ITIS [21] references and photos were also added.
ABBREVIATION : SPIN COMMON NAMES : Great Basin spadefoot TAXONOMY : The scientific name of Great Basin spadefoot is Spea intermontana (Cope) (Pelobatidae) [21,22]. SYNONYMS : Scaphiopus intermontanus Cope [2,7,18] ORDER : Salientia CLASS : Amphibian FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Spea intermontana
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The Great Basin spadefoot is distributed from south-central British Columbia south to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in California; east to southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona; and northeast to western Colorado and central Wyoming [7,18]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES23 Fir-spruce FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES35 Pinyon-juniper FRES38 Plains grasslands STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 10 Wyoming Basin 12 Colorado Plateau KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest K022 Great Basin pine forest K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland K024 Juniper steppe woodland K038 Great Basin sagebrush K040 Saltbush-greasewood K055 Sagebrush steppe SAF COVER TYPES : 206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir 208 Whitebark pine 216 Blue spruce 219 Limber pine 239 Pinyon-juniper SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : 104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass 105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue 107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass 210 Bitterbrush 314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass 315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue 316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue 317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass 318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue 319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue 320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass 321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue 324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue 401 Basin big sagebrush 402 Mountain big sagebrush 403 Wyoming big sagebrush 404 Threetip sagebrush 405 Black sagebrush 406 Low sagebrush 407 Stiff sagebrush 408 Other sagebrush types 412 Juniper-pinyon woodland 501 Saltbush-greasewood 504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland 612 Sagebrush-grass PLANT COMMUNITIES : Great Basin spadefoots occur in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), shadscale (Atriplex spp.), and other desert shrub types, plains grasslands, and pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) woodlands [1,10]. In Utah and northern Arizona, Great Basin spadefoots occur from low desert shrub habitats up into spruce-fir (Picea-Abies spp.) forests [1].
A breeding pool in a desert wash community in Inyo County, California, that resulted from recent rains. Great Basin spadefoots were calling from the water and moving around the desert floor. Photo by Gary Nafis.


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Spea intermontana
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Breeding: Great Basin spadefoots breed in spring and early summer. Hovingh and others [10] reported that in the Bonneville Basin of Utah, breeding occurred from April to mid-June. Breeding after early summer is probably uncommon. Spring rains usually provide the stimulus for males to emerge from their burrows for breeding, although unlike other spadefoots (Scaphiopus spp.), Great Basin spadefoots do breed during periods of no rainfall. The stimulus for emergence for breeding in the absence of rain is unknown. Males move to breeding waters first and begin vocalizing. Female Great Basin spadefoots move to breeding waters after only a few males are vocalizing [10]. Each female produces several hundred eggs contained in a sticky gel. The female deposits her fertilized eggs in several different locations within the breeding water: on vegetation, rocks, or anything else that anchors the eggs. After mating, females return to their burrows. Males stay at the breeding pool and continue vocalizing until females stop arriving (presumably because all females in the vicinity have mated); then the males also return to their burrows [3].
Mature egg and tadpole stages of development. Photos by Gary Nafis.
Development:  Developing rapidly helps Great Basin spadefoots avoid
desiccation and consequent death in their arid environment.  Great Basin
spadefoot eggs probably hatch within 2 to 3 days of deposition [15].
Tadpole development and metamorphosis is complete within 4 to 8 weeks,
depending upon temperature, food quality, and food quantity.  Brown [4]
found that recently fertilized Great Basin spadefoot egg masses,
collected on 20 May from a temporary pond in eastern Washington and
placed in an aquarium, hatched a day later.  Hindlegs of tadpoles in the
aquarium developed by 18 days of age, and forelimbs developed by 31
days.  Tadpole body mass was greatest at 33 days, when complete head
reorganization (eyes, ears, jaws, muscles, and gill absorption) was
complete.  Tail length was greatest 30 days after hatching; the tail was
reabsorped 40 days after hatching [4].  In the wild, temporary waters
frequently dry out and tadpoles die before larval development is
complete [3,4].  Rate of tadpole development may vary with breeding pool
type.  In Texas, tadpoles of a related species, Couch's spadefoot
(Scaphiopus couchii), were found to develop more slowly in permanent
waters than in temporary ponds [14].

Young morphs (metamorphosed preadults) are small; Nussbaum and others
[15] reported that recently metamorphosed Great Basin spadefoots in
north-central Oregon averaged 0.8 inch (19 mm) in length [16].  (Adults
are from 1.5 to 2.5 inches [3.7-6.4 cm] long [18].)  Great Basin
spadefoots have high surface-to-volume ratios as morphs.  Consequently,
they are highly susceptible to desiccation and seek shade cover
immediately after emerging from breeding pools.  Young spadefoots grow
rapidly.  Under laboratory conditions, Couch's spadefoot morphs showed a
110 percent increase in length and over a 1,100 percent increase in mass
in a 3-month period [16].

Hibernation:  Spadefoots accumulate fat rapidly in summer. They are
dormant in fall and winter, with dormancy and apparently triggered by
photoperiod [16].  Spring emergence may be triggered by increased
moisture in the burrow [3].

Spadefoots extend their dormancy period during drought, and can
apparently remain dormant or mostly dormant for long periods of time.
Fat reserves are metabolized slowly during dormancy, and females may
reabsorb their eggs if spring rains do not occur.  Mayhew [12]
speculated that Couch's spadefoots in the extremely arid Imperial Valley,
California, survived a 20-year local drought by remaining dormant except
during rare summer thunderstorms.

Great Basin spadefoots occupy cold desert and arid grassland habitats at
low to high elevations.  Great Basin spadefoots have been found at 8,500
feet (2,600 m) elevation in Wyoming [3].  Morph and adult Great Basin
spadefoots live in burrows.  They dig the burrows with their
spade-shaped hindfeet, then cover the burrow entrance with soil.  The
only time they normally emerge from their burrows is when air is moist

Breeding occurs in spring runoff pools, reservoirs, permanent and
temporary springs, irrigation ditches, and basin lakes [10].  During
their short tadpole life stage, Great Basin spadefoots live in these
breeding waters [3,4].  Great Basin spadefoots usually do not utilize
strongly alkaline water:  Hovingh and others [10] found that most
breeding waters contained less than 1,000 mg/L of dissolved solids.
Breeding sites often have greatly fluctuating volumes of water that
evaporate by autumn.  In the Bonneville Basin, breeding pools with
adundant vegetation showed less tadpole recruitment than pools with
sparse vegetative growth.  The most successful breeding sites were
streambeds scoured by flash floods, reservoirs that had large draw-downs
of water (and thus lacked a littoral zone of vegetation), and temporary
waters that dried by autumn [10].

Morphs and adult Great Basin spadefoots normally venture from their
burrows at night, when it is rainy or the night air is humid enough for
dew to collect [15].  Captive spadefoots (Scaphiopus spp.) have been
observed to dig shallow burrows in moist soil, then dig deeper (2 to 3
feet [0.7-1.2 m]) as soil dries at the surface.  Spadefoots have been
found 15 feet (4.6 m) underground in natural conditions.  An individual
spadefoot digs and occupies only one burrow, which it usually returns to
after foraging or mating.  Darkness provides hiding security during
feeding; spadefoots do not use shrubs or other vegetation for cover
while foraging.  Mating occurs in generally open water [3].

Adult spadefoots are opportunistic carnivores.  Adults hunt in spring
and summer, but only at night or during light rains.  A variety of
species of insects, arachnids, and snails have been found in the
stomachs of adult spadefoots.  Tadpoles feed on nearly every type of
water-borne organic matter:  algae, rotting vegetation, bacteria- or
other humus-rich mud, insects, and the bodies of dead tadpoles.
Spadefoot tadpoles are dimorphic.  Within a cohort, some tadpoles have
large mouthparts, while others have much smaller mouthparts.  As well as
consuming other types of food, large-mouthed individuals are
cannibalistic, swallowing other tadpoles whole [3,20].

Mud turtles (Kinosternon flavescens), spotted skunks (Spilogale
putarius) [13], raccoons (Procyon lotor) [5], common crows (Corvus
brachyrhynchos), and other tadpoles [9] have been noted to prey upon
spadefoot tadpoles.  Many other animal species probably prey on both
tadpole and morph Great Basin spadefoots.  Predators of adult Great
Basin spadefoots have not been described in current literature, although
predation of adults is thought to occur [10].  Predation is probably
reduced by the primarily nocturnal habit of adults [3].  In addition,
adult Great Basin spadefoots secrete an odorous, skin-burning mucous
from the paratoid glands when bitten or handled; they may also
regurgitate when bitten or handled.  Many predators are probably
deterred by these traits [19].

Increased irrigation and range improvements in the Great Basin have
benefitted the Great Basin spadefoot [15].  Hovingh and others [10]
noted that on their Bonneville Basin study area, only 8 percent of
breeding waters utilized by Great Basin spadefoots were entirely
natural.  Populations have declined where water has been diverted,


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Spea intermontana
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Fire probably has no direct effect on Great Basin spadefoots. Adults would stay their burrows during the dry weather associated with fires. Because their environment is aquatic, tadpoles are probably not greatly affected by fire either. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Research on the effects of fire on Great Basin spadefoots is lacking. Habitat alteration by fire probably has no great impact on Great Basin spadefoots, however. Great Basin spadefoots are not dependent upon vegetation for cover. Fire would alter species composition of their primarily arthropod prey base, but overall numbers of arthropod prey would probably not change. Since Great Basin spadefoots are not dependent upon any particular arthropod species as prey, they are probably able to find food in the postfire environment. Due to runoff, nutrient levels of breeding pools may increase after fire, which could benefit tadpoles by encouraging growth of bacteria, algae, and other tadpole foods. However, high levels of sediment, which may wash into breeding pools as a result of postfire erosion, may adversely impact tadpoles by reducing oxygen levels. Even if fire does render breeding pools in a given basin inhospitable to tadpoles, however, fire proabably has no serious impact on the Great Basin spadefoot population of that basin. A large number of a tadpoles and morphs in a Great Basin spadefoot population succumb to desiccation in most breeding years, with population levels increasing greatly during wet years [3,10]. Since most adults are probably unaffected by fire, Great Basin spadefoot populations probably survive fire by the same reproductive adaptations that enable them to survive drought. FIRE USE : No information is available on this topic. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Spea intermontana
REFERENCES : 1. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 2. Blair, W. Frank. 1956. Mating call and possible stage of speciation of the Great Basin spadefoot. Texas Journal of Science. 8: 236-238. [23235] 3. Bragg, Arthur N. 1965. Gnomes of the night. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 127 p. [26517] 4. Bennetts, Robert E.; White, Gary C.; Hawksworth, Frank G.; Severs, Scott E. 1996. The influence of dwarf mistletoe on bird communities in Colorado ponderosa pine forests. Ecological Monographs. 6(3): 899-909. [26509] 5. Childs, Henry E., Jr. 1953. Selection by predation on albino and normal spadefoot toads. Evolution. 7: 228-233. [26510] 6. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 7. Frost, Darrel R., ed. 1985. Amphibian species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press, Inc. 732 p. [26535] 8. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 9. Harestad, Alton S. 1985. Scaphiopus intermontanus (Great Basin spadefoot toad) mortality. Herp Review. 16(1): 24. [23232] 10. Hovingh, Peter; Benton, Bob; Bornholdt, Dave. 1985. Aquatic parameters and life history observations of the Great Basin spadefoot toad in Utah. Great Basin Naturalist. 45(1): 22-30. [23177] 11. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. United States [Potential natural vegetation of the conterminous United States]. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 1:3,168,000; colored. [3455] 12. Mayhew, Wilbur W. 1965. Adaptations of the amphibian, Scaphiopus couchi, to desert conditions. American Midland Naturalist. 74: 95-109. [26511] 13. Newman, R. A. 1987. Effects of density and predation on Scaphiopus couchi tadpoles in desert ponds. Oecologia. 71: 301-307. [26512] 14. Newman, Robert A. 1988. Adaptive plasticity in development of Scaphiopus couchii tadpoles in desert ponds. Evolution. 42(4): 774-783. [26513] 15. Nussbaum, Ronald A.; Brodie, Edmund D., Jr.; Storm, Robert M. 1983. Amphibians and reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Northwest Naturalist Books. Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Press. 332 p. [26534] 16. Seymour, Roger S. 1973. Energy metabolism of dormant spadefoot toads (Scaphiopus). Copeia. 3: 435-445. [26514] 17. Shiflet, Thomas N., ed. 1994. Rangeland cover types of the United States. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management. 152 p. [23362] 18. Stebbins, Robert C. 1985. Western reptiles and amphibians. 2nd ed. Peterson Field Guides No. 16. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 336 p. [22647] 19. Waye, Heather L.; Shewchuk, Christopher H. 1995. Scaphiopus intermontanus (Great Basin spadefoot). Production of odor. Herpetological Review. 26(2): 98-99. [26515] 20. Whitaker, John O., Jr.; Rubin, David; Munsee, Jack R. 1977. Observations on food habits of four species of spadefoot toads, genus Scaphiopus. Herpetologica. 33: 468-475. [26516] 21. Frost, Darrel R. 2013. Amphibian species of the world: an online reference, [Online]. Electronic database: Version 5.4. New York: American Museum of Natural History (Producer). Available: [81716] 22. ITIS Database. 2013. Integrated taxonomic information system, [Online]. Available: [51763]

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