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Gopher Frog

Lithobates capito

What do they look like?

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)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    47 to 151 g
    1.66 to 5.32 oz
  • Range length
    6 to 9 cm
    2.36 to 3.54 in

Where do they live?

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)

What kind of habitat do they need?

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)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • temporary pools

How do they grow?

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)

How do they reproduce?

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)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Gopher frogs breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Gopher frogs breed from January to April.
  • Range time to hatching
    4 to 5 days
  • Range time to independence
    87 to 225 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1.5 years

Gopher frogs leave the eggs alone after they lay them, which is what most amphibians do. When they hatch, the young are totally independent. (Palis, 1998; Palis, et al., 2010)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

Gopher frogs can live for up to 6 years in the wild and 7 years in captivity. (Bailey, 1991)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    0 to 6 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    0 to 7 years

How do they behave?

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)

Home Range

There is no information available about the home range of gopher frogs.

How do they communicate with each other?

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)

What do they eat?

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)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • other marine invertebrates

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Amphibians are good indicators of the quality of a habitat. Both as larvae and adults, gopher frogs are eaten by various predators. (Richter, 2000)

Do they cause problems?

Gohper frogs aren't known to have any negative impacts on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Like many amphibians, gopher frogs ares sensitive to habitat conditions. This means that they can be an early warning to conservationists about habitat health.

Are they endangered?

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)

Some more information...

Scientists are discussing whether the the genus of gopher frogs is Rana or Lithobates. this means that their scientific name is Lithobates capito and also Lithobates capito.

Contributors

Rachel Sines (author), Northern Michigan University, Mary Martin (editor), Northern Michigan University, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.

References

Bailey, M. 1991. The dusky gopher frog in Alabama. Alabama Academy of Science, 62: 28-34.

Blihovde, W. 2006. Terrestrial Movements and Upland Habitat Use of Gopher Frogs in Central Florida. Southeastern Naturalist, Vol. 5, No. 2: 265-276. Accessed February 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3878206.

Brodman, R. 1995. Annual Variation in Breeding Success of Two Syntopic Species of Ambystoma Salamanders. Journal of Herpetology, 29: 111-113. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/pss/1565093.

Conant, R., J. Collins. 1991. A field guide to reptiles and amphibians: eastern and central North America. Third edition. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Denton, J., T. BeeBee. 1993. Summer and winter refugia of Natterjacks (Bufo calamita) and Common Toads (Bufo bufo) in Britain. Herpetological Journal, 3: 90-94.

Franz, R., C. Dodd, Jr., C. Jones. 1998. Life history notes: RANA AREOLATA AESOPUS (Florida gopher frog). Herpetological Review, 19: 33.

Gentry, J., M. Smith. 1968. Food habits and burrow associates of PEROMYSCUS POLIONOTUS. Mammology, 49: 562-565.

Godley, J. 1992. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Vol. III. Amphibians and reptiles. Gainesville, FL: Univ. Press of Florida.

Gregoire, D., M. Gunzburger. 2008. Effects of Predatory Fish on Survival and Behavior of Larval Gopher Frogs (Rana Capito) and Southern Leopard Frogs (Rana Sphenocephala). Journal of Herpetology, 42(1): 97-103. Accessed February 12, 2011 at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1670/07-039.1.

Jensen, J., J. Palis, M. Bailey. 1995. RANA CAPITO SEVOSA (Dusky Gopher Frog) submerged vocalization. Herpetological Review, 26: 98.

Jensen, J., M. Bailey, E. Blankenship, C. Camp. 2003. The Relationship between Breeding by the Gopher Frog, Rana capito (Amphibia: Ranidae) and Rainfall. American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 150, No. 1: 185-190. Accessed February 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3566606.

Lee, D. 1968. Herpetofauna associated with central Florida mammals. Herpetologica, 24: 83-84.

Miller, B., D. Campbell. 1996. Geographic distribution: Rana capito. Herpetological Review, 27: 86-87.

Palis, J., L. Glass-Godwin, G. Hammerson. 2010. "Rana capito - LeConte, 1855 Carolina Gopher Frog" (On-line). Accessed February 14, 2011 at http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?sourceTemplate=tabular_report.wmt&loadTemplate=species_RptComprehensive.wmt&selectedReport=RptComprehensive.wmt&summaryView=tabular_report.wmt&elKey=105963&paging=home&save=true&startIndex=1&nextStartIndex=1&reset=false&offPageSelectedElKey=105963&offPageSelectedElType=species&offPageYesNo=true&post_processes=&radiobutton=radiobutton&selectedIndexes=105963&selectedIndexes=104106&selectedIndexes=105824.

Palis, J. 1998. Breeding Biology of the Gopher Frog, Rana capito, in Western Florida. Journal of Herpetology, Vol. 32, No. 2: 217-223. Accessed February 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1565300.

Richter, S. 2000. Larval Caddisfly Predation on the Eggs and Embryos of Rana capito and Rana sphenocephala. Journal of Herpetology, Vol. 34, No. 4: 590-593. Accessed February 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1565275.

Roznik, E., S. Johnson. 2009. Burrow Use and Survival of Newly Metamorphosed Gopher Frogs (Rana capito). Journal of Herpetology, 43(3): 431-437. Accessed February 12, 2011 at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1670/08-159R.1?prevSearch=&cookieSet=1.

Roznik, E., S. Johnson. 2009. Canopy Closure and Emigration by Juvenile Gopher Frogs. Journal of Wildlife Management, 73(2): 260-268. Accessed February 12, 2011 at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2193/2007-493.

Roznik, E., S. Johnson, C. Greenberg, G. Tanner. 2009. Terrestrial movements and habitat use of gopher frogs in longleaf pine forests: A comparative study of juveniles and adults. Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 259, Issue 2: 187-194. Accessed February 15, 2011 at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T6X-4XNMBWG-1&_user=972151&_coverDate=12%2F15%2F2009&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000049654&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=972151&md5=657d08beb42224c11bed68ab49dbb2c8&searchtype=a.

Seebacher, F., R. Alford. 2002. Shelter microhabitats determine body temperature and dehydration rates of a terrestrial anuran (Bufo marinus). Journal of Herpetology, 36: 69-75. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1670/0022-1511%282002%29036%5B0069:SMDBTA%5D2.0.CO%3B2.

Semlitsch, R. 2008. Differentiating migration and dispersal processes for pond-breeding amphibians. Journal of Wildlife Management, 72: 260-267.

Semlitsch, R., J. Gibbons, T. Tuberville. 1995. Timing of reproduction and metamorphosis in the Carolina gopher frog (RANA CAPITO CAPITO) in South Carolina. Journal of Herpetology, 29: 612-614.

Thorson, T. 1955. The relationship of water economy to terrestrialism in amphibians. Ecology, 36: 100-116. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org/pss/1931435.

Volpe, E. 1958. The early development of RANA CAPITO SEVOSA. Tulane Studies in Zoology, 5: 207-225.

Wright, A., A. Wright. 1933. Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing Company.

Wright, A., A. Wright. 1949. Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing Company.

 
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Sines, R. 2012. "Lithobates capito" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 26, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Lithobates_capito/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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