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The Toads of Tucson

Trevor Hare

Couch's Spadefoot, by Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tucson sits on the edge of the Sky Island Region and the Sonoran Desert,  which hosts some of the greatest diversity of plants and animals in world. One of the most unique wildlife phenomenons in our region is the explosive breeding congregations of toads brought on by the monsoon rains. Herpetologists fondly call these congregations of desert amphibians Cluster Amplexus (amplexus is the act of grasping your mate from behind and fertilizing eggs as they are laid). I have witnessed many of these and occasionally they are so loud you have to wear ear protection. Listen to a sample on the Smithsonian Folkways website, and scroll down near the bottom for “A Chorus of Sonoran Desert Toads #186.” Occasionally they are so loud you have to wear ear protection!

You can often hear the plaintive baaing of the Couch’s Spadefoot in Tucson, but in only a few places can you hear more than one species. One special place is on the Santa Cruz River where Julian Wash outfalls to the river. There, five species can sometimes be found together singing their hearts out! They are Couch’s Spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii), Mexican Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata), Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus), Great Plains toad (Anaxyrus cognatus), Sonoran Desert toad (Anaxyrus alvarius), and the Great Plains Narrow-mouthed toad (Gastrophyrne olivacea).

So get out there, whether the wilds of Tucson or the wilds of the Sonoran Desert and Sky Islands, look for that animal that excites you because even if you don’t find it, it still beats sitting at home!