Gopher Frog

At some point, every living creature indirectly or directly depends on another organism, whether it has been created by seed or egg. The more you explore nature and expand your curiosity to learn about the incredible lives of these living creatures, you will soon realize that everything pretty much connects to one or the other.

I learned many years ago the definition of a ‘keystone’ species and its importance in nature. One reptile that falls under a keystone species is the gopher tortoise. It’s not just the tortoise itself it is its home- the burrow. 

Gopher tortoises and its burrow are protected by state law. It is against the law to kill, harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their eggs, or burrows. If you suspect a wildlife law violation, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Program at 888-404-FWCC, 24 hours a day or online. 

Gopher Tortoise Program | FWC (myfwc.com)

While the gopher tortoise is Florida’s only tortoise, it’s pretty special; its burrow can provide shelter for over 300 species. And remember the part where one species depends on another, the gopher frog at one point in its life will depend on a gopher tortoise burrow. 

Don’t laugh, but when I first saw an oak toad, I thought it was a gopher frog! It’s small, cute, and got some of that sandhill habitat look, being brown, black, gray, and all, but I was wrong and I was at the point where I didn’t believe gopher frogs existed.

Tip: Always look around your entire space when photographing… ENTIRE SPACE! 

While photographing the Cofaqui Giant-Skipper, I glance over at a bare spot of sand. I noticed this frog and it did startle me! It was posed, completely still staring at me in complete silence. I whispered who the heck are you? Are you a, no, you can’t be. You’re huge!

I came to the conclusion that this would be a gopher frog. How? By knowing what habitat I was in- sandhill. What plants and wildlife live in this habitat- saw palmettos, turkey oaks, pine, beautyberry, sable palms, wiregrass, eastern fence lizards, coyotes, rattlesnakes, tiger beetles, dung beetles, mice, six-line racers, rabbits, and of course, gopher tortoises!

They do exist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was gleaming with joy!

The gopher frog often depends on the gopher tortoise burrows, along with other burrowing animals, because that is where it lives and uses these burrows to hide from predators and the sun! It has been documented that gopher frogs will also use stumps and dead vegetation.

Like most semi-aquatic amphibians, their skin has a membrane, a protective layer of skin, and gopher frogs have semi-permeable skin – which means their skin absorbs what is around it to stay moist – humidity and/or water. If the frog is in the sun, it will dry out. 

Gopher frogs may breed year-round and lay a cluster of up to 2000 eggs in a fish-absent pond. What is remarkable is that, according to research, these frogs can travel just over a mile away from their breeding site. Think how long it would take a 3.5-inch frog with a jump length of 20 times its body size to travel a mile. That’s a long way to go for a frog! 

Again with Florida’s population increase and urban development, gopher frogs and their dependency on burrowing animals are facing difficulties in their survival. In a journal article written by W. Boyd Blihovde- Terrestrial Movements and Upland Habitat Use of Gopher Frogs in Central Florida, it is mentioned- “Researchers have recommended a terrestrial buffer surrounding the core habitat to protect upland habitat for semi-aquatic species of amphibians. The aquatic buffer, core habitat, and terrestrial buffer can be combined into a life zone for some species. For instance, the Gopher frog spends a great deal of time and terrestrial uplands. The uplands are so important to the frog that they should be considered essential portions of their life zone. ”

Well said. 

Even if we are not researchers, scientists, biologists, or even college degree holders, I feel we, as naturalists who engage in citizen science and volunteer work, play an essential role in nature education. Our passion, drive, and ambition to learn about the natural areas and what occupies them help those in research and inspire those who are curious about nature’s wonders. 

Have a wonderful week!


Links:

Species Profile: Gopher Frog (Rana [Lithobates] capito) | SREL Herpetology (uga.edu)

Listen to their call! Now, if I was walking in the woods at night, which is highly unlikely, but if I was with a ton of people and I heard that call, I definitely would be nervous. 

Gopher Frog (Lithobates capito) | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

Gopher Frog (ufl.edu)

WEC 250/UW295: Gopher Frogs, Burrows, and Fire: Interactions in the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem (ufl.edu)

Gopher Frog (Lithobates capito) aGOFRx_CONUS_2001v1 Habitat Map – ScienceBase-Catalog

Gopher Frog | FWC (myfwc.com)

Gopher Frog (Lithobates capito) | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)

1 reply

  1. Another terrific find!

    Your emphasis on the importance of the Gopher Tortoise burrows dredged up a memory. When I was almost a teenager, my buddy and I used to drag rattlesnakes out those burrows during the winter. I know. Dumb and stupid were regularly applied by our parents. Amazing we survived.

    The lesson of your post is a recurring one. Be aware of your surroundings and truly observe everything within your range of vision. Then, look again.

    Like

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