- Federal Status: Not listed
- FL Status: No longer listed in Florida as of January 11, 2017, but is part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan.
- FNAI Ranks: G3/S3 (Vulnerable)
- IUCN Status: NT (Near Threatened)
Intentional take, transport, possession, and sale of this species is prohibited.
Adult gopher frogs are stout, medium sized frogs that have tan, green, or grey skin with dark mottled spotting on their bodies. Their skin is bumpy and wrinkled in appearance. There is a light brown raised ridge that extends along the sides of the body. They have relatively short legs, large heads and rounded snouts. The size of these frogs ranges from 2.8-4.3 inches in length with weights ranging from 47-151g. For this species, adult female frogs are typically bigger than males.
Gopher frog tadpoles’ range in body color from a yellow-green, olive-green, to grey with black spots. They typically reach an average length of about 4.5 inches before metamorphosis. Their tail fin is patterned with large faint spots.
Adult gopher frogs shelter primarily in gopher tortoise burrows found in xeric (dry) upland habitats but will also use other subterranean areas. These underground areas provide safety from predators and a stable environment which prevents desiccation (drying out). These secretive frogs will leave the burrow to forage during the nighttime. Primary prey items include earthworms, spiders, beetles, crickets, other small insects, and sometimes other frogs.
Gopher frogs in northern Florida typically breed between October and April with peak activity after heavy rains in February and March. In central and southern Florida, gopher frogs may breed year-round following heavy rains. Prior to the breeding season the frogs will relocate to a wetland habitat. They can travel up to 1.2 miles between upland and wetland habitats. During this time, male frogs stay at the seasonally flooded ponds for about a month waiting for females to come and lay eggs. The males will use mating calls, which sounds like a deep snore, to attract females. Females lay one cluster of eggs per breeding season containing thousands of eggs. Eggs hatch in about four to five days, and the tadpoles live in the ponds for three to seven months until they transform into frogs. The juvenile gopher frogs will then disperse back into the xeric habitat to repeat the cycle all over again. Typically, gopher frogs live between four and five years.
Gopher frogs are typically found in the coastal plains of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and throughout most of Florida except Broward, Hendry, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties. Non-breeding adults and juveniles use upland habitats such as longleaf pine, xeric oak, and sandhills but they can also be found in upland pine forest, scrub, xeric hammock, mesic and scrubby flatwoods, dry prairie, and mixed hardwood-pine communities. Breeding adults use semi-permanent and temporary ponds for reproduction. Adult gopher frogs are a gopher tortoise commensal species (meaning one species benefits from another) due to their use of gopher tortoise burrows in dry habitats.
Fire is natural and important for habitat stabilization and for the growth of vegetation. Prescribed fires help prevent the encroachment of hardwood trees and establishment of non-native species that alter the environment.
Gopher frogs face a variety of threats, including:
Habitat loss and alteration: The conversion of natural landscapes to residential or commercial areas results in a loss of upland sandhill habitat for the species and reduces the availability of wetlands required for breeding. This habitat loss has also contributed to population declines in gopher tortoises, a keystone species, and the ecological engineers of the burrows that gopher frogs depend upon for survival.
Off-road vehicles: The use of off-road vehicles in sensitive wetland habitat can degrade and destroy suitable breeding habitat.
Climate change: The impacts of climate change can cause changes in temperatures and alter seasonal precipitation patterns. These changes affect the seasonal filling of breeding ponds and the quality of the habitats due to shorter periods of time when prescribed fire is effective.
Predation: The intentional or accidental introduction of fish into the otherwise predator free ponds can reduce recruitment.
Disease: Gopher frogs are susceptible to several diseases and pathogens. Amphibian diseases are difficult for biologists to accurately monitor as dead amphibians quickly decompose. The most common diseases are infectious parasites and chytrid fungus.
Conservation and Management
The conservation of gopher frog habitats is the biggest way to help the species. This is done through prescribed fires and prevention of habitat fragmentation. Prescribed fires mimic the effects of natural disturbance from natural fires improving habitat quality. Limiting habitat fragmentation will help reduce the number of gopher frogs having to travel across roadways while searching for burrows and suitable breeding ponds for reproduction.
This species cannot be taken or possessed without a permit. If you are interested in researching the gopher frog, please see guidance on obtaining a Scientific Collecting permit.
How you can help
Disease detection is important in identifying threats to population declines. Report sick or dead gopher frogs or amphibians by contacting your FWC Regional Office. If you suspect that someone is illegally capturing or selling wild gopher frogs, please contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-3922.