on Jun 20, 2011 12:00 AM • Views 5708
Media Contact: Jeff Hall, Wildlife Biologist

RALEIGH, N.C. (June 20, 2011) –  The N. C. Wildlife Resources Commission is partnering with the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher to raise gopher frogs from one of the few remaining wild populations. 

Gopher frogs, once common across the lower coastal plain and sandhills have declined dramatically with the loss of Longleaf Pine forests. Gopher frogs require fire-maintained pine forests to provide the stump holes and grassy vegetation that are utilized as summer habitat. Additionally, these forests need to contain isolated temporary wetlands, sometimes referred to as vernal ponds, to provide the winter breeding habitat required by gopher frogs.

Today only a handful of gopher frog populations persist on the larger publicly-managed lands in North Carolina.

One of the most critically threatened populations occurs on Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County. The historic ponds used by breeding gopher frogs have been lost to development, leaving the frogs with only one small man-made pond in which to breed.

Commission staff have recently initiated an effort to enhance the pond, attempting to make it function more as a natural wetland and provide better habitat for gopher frog tadpoles. Because the site has failed to produce juvenile gopher frogs in recent years, Commission biologists collected a small portion of the gopher frog egg masses that were deposited there this winter. The eggs were transported to the Fort Fisher aquarium where they were hatched. Currently, several hundred tadpoles are being raised into small frogs before being released back onto Holly Shelter Game Land.

"We wanted to guarantee that we got some level of successful reproduction into the population this year" said Jeff Humphries, a biologist with the Commission. "The aquarium possessed the necessary resources to pull off an effort of this type, so they were a natural fit for us." 

Commission biologists hope to finish final modifications to the breeding site this summer, thereby providing more suitable breeding habitat for upcoming winter.

Funding for the Commission’s gopher frog research and management comes from the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund, which supports wildlife research, conservation and management for animals that are not hunted and fished. Although tax check-off donations target projects benefiting nongame animals and their habitats, game species such as deer, turkey and bear also benefit because they share many of these same habitats.

North Carolinians can support this effort, as well as other nongame species research and management projects in North Carolina, by:

  • Donating through the Tax Check-off for Nongame and Endangered Wildlife on their N.C. State Income tax form;
  • Registering a vehicle or trailer with a N.C. Wildlife Conservation license plate.
  • Donating online at www.ncwildlife.org/give.

In addition, the gopher frog will be featured on the Commission’s 2011 N.C. State Fair button. Pick up yours at the Commission’s exhibit during the Mountain State Fair, Sept. 9 to 18, or the State Fair in Raleigh, Oct. 13 to 23.