Gopher frogs have stocky bodies with short arms. Their noses are pointed and they have a ridge running along each side of their back. Their body is light-colored and marked with dark brown or black blotches in different shapes and sizes. They are 6 to 9 cm from nose to end and weigh 47 to 151 g. Males are smaller than females. Their skin can be rough or smooth and is yellow-white to brown or gray in color. Underneath, they are white, cream, or yellow with dark spots. Tadpoles are yellow-green, olive-green, or gray and have large black spots on the upper body, tail and fin. Tadpoles usually get to be 84 mm long, but can be longer than 90 mm in North Carolina. (Conant and Collins, 1991; Palis, 1998; Palis, et al., 2010; Roznik and Johnson, 2009a)
Gopher frogs are found mainly in the flat coastal areas of the southeastern United States. They are found from central North Carolina to the east and west coasts of southern Florida. There are also groups of them in central and southeastern Alabama, central Tennessee and southwestern Georgia. (Conant and Collins, 1991; Miller and Campbell, 1996; Palis, et al., 2010)
Gopher frogs live in dry mountainous areas with cold, clear, rivers. They mostly live in forests of longleaf pine trees with sandy soil. Their habitats also have shrub-like pine trees, and groups of trees in dry open areas. They usually find shelter underground in gopher tortoise burrows, and get their name from gopher tortises. They also use burrows of small mammals like rodents, or under logs and in holes in stumps. When traveling, they hide out under clumps of grass and leaves on the ground. This protects them from both weather and predators. Gopher frogs especially prefer habitats where the trees aren't too close together, because there are more available burrows. They breed in temporary ponds or ones that flood in certain times of the year, but spend most of their time in burrows on land. (Denton and BeeBee, 1993; Gentry and Smith, 1968; Godley, 1992; Lee, 1968; Palis, et al., 2010; Roznik and Johnson, 2009b; Seebacher and Alford, 2002; Thorson, 1955; Wright and Wright, 1949)
Gopher frogs lay masses of eggs just below the surface of water in ponds that have water for most of the year. The tadpoles turn into frogs after 87 to 225 days and then spread out into into drier habitats. (Semlitsch, et al., 1995)
Gopher frogs breed from January to April, right after a heavy rain. Males call to possible mates, and mate with more than one female. Males stay in breeding ponds for about a month, but females stay less than a week. (Palis, 1998; Palis, et al., 2010)
Gopher frogs breed from January through April, usually in ponds that are filled with water for most of the year and don't have any predatory fish. Males stay in the ponds for about a month, and females stay less than a week. Females lay a cluster of thousands of gray or gray-black eggs once a season. The eggs are 1.67 to 2.7 mm in diameter. Females lay the egg mass near the surface of the water on a shrub that is partly underwater so the eggs stay at the right depth. When the water gets warmer, the eggs develop. They are tadpoles for 87 to 225 days, and then grow into frogs and move onto land. (Bailey, 1991; Brodman, 1995; Gregoire and Gunzburger, 2008; Jensen, et al., 1995; Palis, 1998; Palis, et al., 2010; Semlitsch, 2008; Semlitsch, et al., 1995; Volpe, 1958; Wright and Wright, 1933)
Gopher frogs can live for up to 6 years in the wild and 7 years in captivity. (Bailey, 1991)
Gopher frogs live in hot, dry areas, so they are at risk for drying out. They spend a lot of time underground to prevent this from happening, and also to hide from predators and avoid bad weather. They are very likely to survive their first few weeks of like if they find a good refuge spot within the first 8 days. Gopher frogs travel up to 691 m away from the pond they were born in, and up to 2 km to breeding ponds. While traveling, they find refuge in tortoise burrows. They often travel when it's raining a lot. Gopher frogs are active at night. They usually stay close to the entrance of their burrow so they can return to it if threatened. (Bailey, 1991; Franz, et al., 1998; Gregoire and Gunzburger, 2008; Jensen, et al., 2003; Palis, et al., 2010; Roznik and Johnson, 2009b)
There is no information available about the home range of gopher frogs.
Gopher frogs make a deep, throaty noise called a snore that can be 2 seconds long and heard from .4 km away. They are more likely to call during the breeding season or after heavy rain, but can call all year long. They can even call while underwater. (Jensen, et al., 1995; Palis, et al., 2010)
Gopher frogs eat various kinds of other animals. These include earthworms, cockroaches, spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, and other toads and frogs. They travel long distances at night looking for food. Tadpoles eat microscopic algae, plant parts, bacteria and one-celled organisms that they find on underwater vegetation or along the pond bottom. The amount of prey available is affected by water quality and the amount of tree cover. (Palis, et al., 2010; Wright and Wright, 1949)
Caddisfly larvae often eat gopher frog egg masses, along with dragonfly nymphs, diving beetles and turtles. Occasionally, snakes are found at breeding sites. When gopher frogs transition from water habitats to land, they are most likely to be eaten. Only about 5% of fertilized eggs develop into juveniles. Gopher frogs escape potential predators by hiding in burrows. Their camouflaged colors also reduce the risk of being eaten. (Gregoire and Gunzburger, 2008; Palis, et al., 2010; Richter, 2000; Roznik and Johnson, 2009b)
Amphibians are good indicators of the quality of a habitat. Both as larvae and adults, gopher frogs are eaten by various predators. (Richter, 2000)
Gohper frogs aren't known to have any negative impacts on humans.
Like many amphibians, gopher frogs ares sensitive to habitat conditions. This means that they can be an early warning to conservationists about habitat health.
The number of gopher frogs is declining, and they are listed as "near threatened" on the IUCN Red List. A subspecies called Mississippi gopher frogs is endangered on the U.S. Federal List. They live in a small area and specific habitat, so they are at risk. Threats to their numbers include habitat loss from holding back fires, building roads and buildings, farming, and off-road vehicles. The number of gopher tortoises is also decreasing, so there are fewer burrows for gopher frogs to use. Scientists estimate that there are less than 10,000 gopher frogs living in the world, which is much less than there used to be. (Palis, et al., 2010)
Rachel Sines (author), Northern Michigan University, Mary Martin (editor), Northern Michigan University, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.
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