Jockeys Ridge and the Spadefoot Toad
By Kip Tabb –
Jockeys Ridge State Park is about 420 acres of land and the obvious dominant feature is Jockeys Ridge—this huge absolutely barren mass of sand (scientifically it’s termed a medaño) The view from the top is amazing, it’s a great place to fly a kite, even better place to strap a gigantic kite to your back and take a leap of faith and go hand gliding.
Yet, in spite of all of that, the most fascinating feature of the park—for me—has always been how varied the ecosystem of this small patch of the Outer Banks is.
Here’s a small example and the subject of this article.
At the base of Jockeys Ridge, right at the end of the boardwalk that comes out from the visitor’s center, there is a pond that forms every year—usually during spring rains—and by mid June, early July at the latest, it is gone, completely evaporated in the summer heat.
Not this year though. Tropical Storm Beryl, which dumped about 5” or 6” of rain on the Outer Banks in late May, started the process. Sporadic but very heavy rains followed and as a consequence that little pond is as large as I have seen it in the almost 20 years I have been here and it has survived well into July.
There are all sorts of processes keeping the water levels as high as they are, but talking about all of that would detract from the subject of this piece, which is the spadefoot toad—a species of toad that I had no knowledge of until I had a chance to talk about the pond with Debo Cox, Park Superintendent.
The spadefoot toad is unique, thriving in systems that are sporadically wet. In between times, which might be up to six years, the toads burrow into the sand and seem to hibernate. When conditions are right, they emerge and reproduce explosively.
Conditions are right this year and the spadefoot toad has emerged from the sand.
I did manage to get a picture of what I think is a spadefoot toad (experts on the subject can confirm or correct me). It is probably a very young toad, since it is very small and adult toads are get to be about an inch and a half to two inches in size.
Their life cycle is very quick and based around the uncertain fate of the water source. When the pond dries up they use a spade-like toe on their back legs to dig into the sand and wait the next chance to mate.