Western Spadefoot Toads: These 2-inch-long, stout-looking little toads are known for their purr-like trill, their spade-like adaptation for digging on each hind foot, and for their unusual ability to accelerate metamorphosis when shallow breeding pools start to dry up. But even with those remarkable adaptations, the western spadefoot has been no match for the march of development and habitat reduction. Since the 1950s, the animals have lost more than 80 percent of their preferred grassland and alluvial fan habitats. The toads, which are completely terrestrial except when breeding, depend on the existence of vernal rain pools and slow-moving streams, both of which have declined across their range due to urban development and agricultural practices. Historically known to occur in the lowlands of Southern California, from south of the San Francisco Bay area to northern Baja California, they are now listed as a “species of special concern” in California, a status that recognizes their dramatic decline but fails to afford them any legal protection. Already, they are thought to be extirpated throughout much of their lowland Southern California range.
Illinois Chorus Frogs: Throughout American history, these inch-and-a-half-long, dark-spotted frogs have been known for their distinctive, high-pitched, bird-like whistles that can be heard from great distances. Often mistaken for toads because of their stout bodies, they have thick forearms used for digging burrows. Tiny frogs that spend most of their time below ground, they were once common along the wide, sandy soiled grasslands and floodplains of the Mississippi and Illinois river basins. But as a result of unbridled housing development that has eliminated lowland habitat, and agricultural practices that now level fields instead of leaving the water-holding troughs the frogs used for breeding, most of their already small populations are in serious decline. They are now listed as threatened in Illinois, but this status does not protect their habitat.
Yuman Desert Fringe-Toed Lizards: (Arizona): These striking little camouflaged lizards, known only to desert sites in southwestern Arizona, have long made their homes in sparsely vegetated areas of windblown sand. Less than 5 inches long, with their tails making up half their length, these extremely rare lizards are highly adapted to the harsh desert environment. The fringe of scales on the sides of their toes helps them run across loose sand without sinking; tightly overlapping eyelids, earflaps and valve-like nostrils protect them from the constantly blowing sand. Their fragile habitat is under ongoing threat from development and off-road vehicles. The lizard is a Bureau of Land Management sensitive species in Arizona and a state sensitive species — designations that reflect the lizards’ rarity but offer no legal protection for them or their habitat. Despite their declining population, lizards may still be taken for personal collections.
Photo credits: western spadefoot toad courtesy James Bettaso, USFWS; Illinois chorus frog copyright Stanley Trauth; Yuman desert fringe-toed lizard courtesy Jim Rorabaugh, USFWS.
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