Gopher frog: Lithobates capito
Genus/Species: Lithobates capito
Common Name: Gopher frog
Federal Status: Not listed
FL Status: State Species of Special Concern
FNAI Ranks: G3G4/S3 (Globally: Insufficient Data for ranking but ranges from Rare to Apparently Secure/State: Rare)
IUCN Status: NT (Near Threatened)
The gopher frog is a stout-bodied frog that reaches a length of two to four inches (5.1-10.2 centimeters). This species has a cream to brown-colored body with irregular dark spots on its sides and back, a large head, warty skin, rounded snout, short legs, and a light brown ridge found behind its eyes (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The diet of the gopher frog primarily consists of invertebrates and anurans (frogs and toads) (Godley 1992).
The breeding season differs by geographical location, as the North Florida population breeds from February to June and the Central and South Florida population during the summer. Gopher frogs will travel long distances (up to a mile or more) to breed in temporary breeding ponds. Females lay eggs in shallow water in a single mass that can contain 3,000 to 7,000 eggs, which attach to vegetation when released. Once hatched, the tadpoles metamorphose in three to seven months. Gopher frogs usually reach sexual maturity at two years of age (Godley 1992, Palis 1998).
The call of a gopher frog is a deep guttural snore (the sound is developed in the back of the mouth) and heavy rains at any season may stimulate choruses, with many of them calling at once. Sometimes they call from underwater, so as not to attract predators, creating a noise that is detected only by a hydrophone.
Habitat and Distribution
The gopher frog inhabits longleaf pine, xeric oak, and sandhills mostly, but also occurs in upland pine forest, scrub, xeric hammock, mesic and scrubby flatwoods, dry prairie, mixed hardwood-pine communities, and a variety of disturbed habitats (Enge 1997). This species inhabits gopher tortoise burrows, which is how its name originated. Gopher frogs can be found throughout Florida (Map Data from: FNAI, museums, and gopher frog literature).
The main threat to the gopher frog is the destruction of its habitat, especially breeding ponds. Exclusion and suppression of fire from wetlands often leads to degradation of breeding ponds through shrub encroachment, peat buildup, and increased evapotranspiration (evaporation of surface water and release of water vapor) from plants shortening the hydroperiods (LaClaire 2001). Coverage of grassy emergent vegetation decreases and peat buildup may acidify the water past tolerance levels of the gopher frog (Smith and Braswell 1994). Another threat to gopher frog populations is the introduction of game and predaceous fish into formerly fish-free wetlands during natural flooding events. The introduction of these fish causes increased predation of the gopher frog’s eggs and tadpoles. The gopher frog also faces threats of disease, such as contraction of the Anuraperkinsus mesomycetozoan (yeast-like) pathogen - an infectious parasite.
Conservation and Management
The gopher frog is protected as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.
Biological Status Review (BSR)
Supplemental Information for the BSR
Other Informative Links
Florida Natural Areas Inventory
International Union for Conservation of Nature
Printable version of this page
Enge, K. M. 1997. A standardized protocol for drift-fence surveys. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Technical Report No. 14, Tallahassee, Florida, USA. 68pp.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory. 2001. Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Lithobates_capito.PDF
Godley, J. S. 1992. Gopher frog,Rana capitoLe Conte. Pages 15–19 in P. E. Moler, editor. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Volume III. Amphibians and reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.
Jensen, J. B., and S. C. Richter. 2005. Rana capitoLeConte, 1855; gopher frog. Pages 536–538 in M. Lannoo, editor. Amphibian declines: the conservation status of United States species. University of California Press, Los Angeles, California, USA.
LaClaire, L.V. 2001. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; final rule to list the Mississippi gopher frog distinct population segment of dusky gopher frog as endangered. Federal Register 66:62993–63001.
Palis, J. G. 1998. Breeding biology of the gopher frog,Rana capito, in western Florida. Journal of Herpetology 32:217–223.
Smith, S. D., and A. L. Braswell. 1994. Preliminary investigation of acidity in ephemeral wetlands and the relationship to amphibian usage in North Carolina. Report to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.
Image Credit FWC, Kevin Enge