Photo by Jeff Hall
Scientific Name: Rana [=Lithobates] capito
Classification: Nongame species-State listed Endangered
Abundance: Rare (blue)
Gopher frog juvenile (Photo: Jeff Hall)
Gopher frog displaying defensive posturing (Photo: Jeff Hall)
Gopher frog head-starting tanks (Photo: Jeff Hall)
The call of the Carolina gopher frog is a low-pitched snore or growl, sometimes given underwater.
The Carolina gopher frog resembles a toad in many ways - from its warty skin to its large head and chunky body. It has prominent, cobblestone-like warts and distinct folds along the sides of its body. Color ranges from pale gray to tan to nearly black with numerous dark spots. Its belly is mottled with dark pigment and it has yellow or orange on the concealed surfaces of the thighs and groin.
These rare frogs occur in scattered localities in the Sandhills and southeastern Coastal Plain. Biologists know little about their natural history outside the breeding season. Adults spend most of their time underground.
Gopher frogs get their common name from the fact that adults commonly use the burrows of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as hiding places in the deep south. In North Carolina, gopher frogs hide in stump holes, root tunnels and mammal and crayfish burrows. Gopher tortoises are not found in North Carolina.
Gopher frogs breed in fishless ponds from mid-February to mid-April. Virtually all breeding sites are upland ephemeral ponds in longleaf pine savannas. Large, gobular egg masses are attched to submerged stems, usually in water more than a foot deep. The tadpoles very closely resemble those of the southern leopard frog and normally transform in about 12 weeks.
The Carolina gopher frog is classified as a nongame species with no open season. It is state-listed as an endangered species and cannot be collected or taken except under a special permit issued by the Wildlife Commission’s Executive Director. More information
There are no reported problems with this species.
Beginning in 2011, Wildlife Commission staff, working with the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and later in 2015 with the N.C. Zoo, have collected small portions of gopher frog egg masses found in the wild. Eggs were then hatched out and resulting tadpoles were raised up to metamorphosis in outdoor tanks. These young frogs were then released back to the same locations from where the eggs were collected. They conduct these “head-starting efforts” to augment wild populations of gopher frogs.
Gopher Frog Conservation Plan for North Carolina (~11 MB PDF)
Gopher Frog Conservation Plan for North Carolina (~3 MB PDF)
General Information on Frog and Toad Monitoring
Frogs and toads can be monitored fairly easily in a variety of ways. One way is through frog call monitoring. The North Carolina Calling Amphibian Survey Program attempts to do just that by corralling data collected by volunteers across the state that monitors specific frog call routes. Each species of frog and toad has a unique call that is distinguishable from others. Some are more difficult for humans to separate than others, but the frogs know who’s who! Learn your frog calls, and you too can distinguish who’s calling in the ponds. Another way to monitor frogs and toads is by looking for egg masses deposited in wetlands and/or by looking for tadpoles in those same wetlands. Different frogs breed at different times of the year, so when to look for eggs is dependent on the species of interest. Eggs typically hatch within a couple weeks of being deposited, so there is a fairly short window for detection. Frog eggs can sometimes be identified to family, but are somewhat tricky to identify to species level. Tadpole identification can be similarly tricky, so learning and listening to frog calls is definitely the easiest method for determining what frogs and toads are using a wetland. Tadpoles are a little easier to monitor, as most species have tadpoles present in wetlands for longer periods of time. This is, again, variable by species. Most species have tadpole stages that last at least several months, but the range in timing for different species is everything from a couple of weeks to several years. The smaller frog and toad species tend to have shorter tadpole cycles, while the larger frogs and toads tend to have longer times to metamorphosis.
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports
Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina Listings (PDF)