The Gopher Frog is a species from the anuran family Ranidae that occurs in the southeastern United States. Classified as vulnerable, this species faces many challenges leading to population decline. Individuals are known to frequently use Gopher Tortoise burrows throughout their range.
|Common Name||Gopher Frog|
|Scientific Name||Lithobates capito|
|Locations||Alabama, North Carolina|
South Carolina, Florida, Georgia
|Characteristics||Larger dark spots on body, warty appearance|
|Color||Dark grays and browns|
|Origin||Southeastern United States|
|Subspecies||Florida Gopher Frog Lithobates capito aesopus |
Carolina Gopher Frog Lithobates capito capito
|Max Length||2.5-3.5 inches|
|Max Weight||150 grams|
Geographical Range and Habitat
Gopher Frogs occur in the southeastern United States of America.
The species has a fragmented range through southern North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
They occupy the area known as the Coastal Plain.
They occur in dry, upland habitats, which is a little strange for an amphibian species.
But, no worries, because they can be found near a water source more likely than not.
Longleaf pine and turkey oak forests are favorites for Gopher Frogs.
Any wetland habitats they frequent are typically herbaceous and covered in grasses and plants.
Gopher Frogs and the Gopher Tortoise
Gopher Frogs are named after their reliance on the Gopher Tortoise, which occurs throughout much of its range in Florida.
They occupy longleaf pine forests and dig burrows that are used by an abundance of other species.
One of those species that utilizes the hard work of the tortoise is the Gopher Frog.
They will reside in burrows and use them as shelter.
These frogs will also sit in the mouth of the burrow and eat any invertebrates and other anurans, like toads, that come into their path.
Current Conservation Status
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Gopher Frogs as a vulnerable species as of 2021.
This species is currently and historically showing declining population trends.
There is, however, some uncertainty in the Florida populations.
There are many stable populations, and some are unable to be assessed due to occurring on private property.
Outside of Florida, however, Gopher Frog populations are facing declines.
The current decline has been noted for multiple generations and is leading to population fragmentations.
Fragmentation occurs when individuals of the same species are cut off from one another, forming new populations that are not in contact.
Population and Habitat Threats
Populations of Gopher Frogs are being threatened by a variety of ailments depending on their location in their range.
In Alabama, predatory fish have been introduced into the water systems these frogs use to breed. They prey on the frog eggs and tadpoles.
Habitat loss has been noted throughout the range, but is prevalent in Georgia and South Carolina.
Private lands have been altering and converting habitats for development purposes.
Timber management has been removing pine trees, resulting in a loss of the longleaf pine forests used by Gopher Tortoises.
Since Gopher Tortoises are so useful for Gopher Frogs, a threat to them is a threat to the frogs.
Roads are built that cut through Gopher Frog habitat.
Pollution runoff from these roads drain into breeding ponds.
Erosion from unpaved roads also drain into breeding ponds, contaminating them and making them unsuitable habitats for breeding.
Heavy grazing by cattle and livestock and groundwater withdrawal are also known to reduce breeding pond quality.
While chytrid fungus has not been seen in Gopher Frogs (yet), tadpoles can be affected by pathogens.
In North Carolina the Gopher Frog is classified as Threatened.
Due to this classification, the North Carolina Department of Wildlife Resources hand reared individuals for release.
They were translocated into restore habitat in 2020.
Importance of Fire for Forest Ecology
Something I learned in college was the importance of fire for forests.
Now, I know this sounds weird, aren’t fires detrimental to forests? In one sense, yes.
But in another sense they are necessary for the forest to flourish.
Fires will suppress vegetation from becoming too overgrown.
Overgrown vegetation will cause habitat encroachment.
Some tree and plant species will only release their seeds after the intense heat of a fire.
Gopher Frogs, and many other species, seek shelter from fires in the burrows dug by Gopher Tortoises.
While fires can be detrimental, they can be essential for maintaining habitats.
A preserved land near where I grew up conducts prescribed burns every year.
Coloration, Patterns, and Characteristics
Gopher Frogs are darkly colored, typically displaying grays and browns.
They have larger dark spots on their bodies and are also covered in characteristic warts.
Females will have longer snouts than males.
Males have a unique sound to them.
They have been described as having a call that sounds like a deep snore.
Together, their sound can be roaring.
Breeding Behavior and Habits
Gopher Frogs will migrate from their upland summer habitats to their breeding ponds and back again once done.
They are typically seen on the move during rainy nights.
Now, their breeding season is not quite set.
Their northern range tends to have shorter breeding and larval periods, while their southern ranges show multiple breeding episodes and longer larval periods.
Species in South Carolina have been seen to breed between January and April.
In North Carolina, species may breed twice a year.
Floridan species will breed between October and May.
How to Find A Gopher Frog In the Wild
- Be in the Southern United States. Your best bet would be to go to Florida.
- Find ponds in longleaf pine forests.
- Look for them in the mouths of Gopher Tortoise burrows.
- Be on the lookout after rainfalls and during the night.
Fun Facts About Gopher Frogs
- There are two subspecies, however, more have been proposed and those subspecies have the potential to become their own species!
- Conservation efforts are needed to help populations, but not many are in place as of now.
AmphibiaWeb. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://amphibiaweb.org
IUCN. 2022. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2022-2. https://www.iucnredlist.org.
Web, A. D. (n.d.). Critter Catalog. BioKIDS. Retrieved from http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lithobates_capito/