Gopher Frogs

Headstarting Carolina gopher frogs | Lithobates capito | Georgia, USA

Adult Carolina Gopher frog. Photo-illustrated by Mark Mandica from an animal in our education and outreach collection.
“The recent rains have had me travelling to the Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area in southern Georgia to look for egg masses of the increasingly rare Carolina Gopher Frog (Lithobates capito).  These frogs typically migrate from their upland homes to ephemeral wetlands to reproduce following late winter and early spring showers.  

the release site (notice foraging Gopher tortoise)
The Atlanta Botanical Garden, in partnership with the University of Georgia, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy, Jones Ecological Research Center, and Zoo Atlanta, collect portions of wild Gopher Frog egg masses so that they can be reared in captivity.  The resulting tadpoles are grown until they metamorphose into froglets.  At this point they are transported to a Nature Conservancy preserve in south Georgia that has all of the right environmental conditions, but no Gopher Frogs.  We hope to establish a new population on this protected land, and if it is successful, we may be able to restore other populations of this rare and unique creature.
Developing Gopher frog embryos

Unfortunately, there were no Gopher Frog eggs on this most recent adventure, but the trip was most definitely NOT a waste.  Under a grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group, I collected and tested water samples from the breeding pond to compare and insure our conditions here at the Garden match up to the wild.  I also collected samples to test the amphibians in this site for emerging diseases like the amphibian chytrid fungus.  And while only a couple of male Gopher Frogs were heard calling, there was PLENTY of activity from the other residents!  Southern Leopard Frogs (Lithobates sphenocephalus) were heard in a cacophony of cackles and their eyeshines were caught in my flashlight beam all around the pond.  This is also their breeding season, but unlike the Gopher Frogs, they were not shy about laying eggs. Dozens of egg masses were found all around the shallow parts of the pond the next morning.  Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) were there in large numbers but tough to locate despite their loud and piercing PEEPS.  But in sheer numbers, Southern Cricket Frogs (Acris gryllus) dominated the pond.  These tiny frogs come in various shades of brown with markings ranging from green splotching to orange stripes.  Their calls are reminiscent of the clicks of a Geiger counter.  And there weren’t just frogs around.  Coyotes came to visit my little makeshift frog processing station (but didn’t stick around for photos) and Screech Owls whistled all through the night.

Gopher froglets - ready to be released back into the wild

If you wish to learn more about our Gopher Frog head starting program, be sure to swing by our upcoming exhibit in the Fuqua Orchid Center on your next visit to the Garden.  You can learn a bit about the program and get to see some of the tadpoles as they grow up.” — Robert Hill

The collection site

Tadpole rearing in between the high and low elevation houses