The gopher frog (Lithobates capito) is a stout-bodied frog measuring 2.5 to 4.4 inches with a large head and mouth, stocky body, stubby legs, and prominent eyes. They have warty or wrinkled-looking skin which ranges in color from light tan to gray with black or brown irregular blotches on the back, sides, and legs. Male gopher frogs have a breeding call consisting of a deep snoring sound. Gopher frogs occupy a variety of fire-maintained habitats, particularly sandhill, but can also be found in pastures and other open disturbed areas where gopher tortoises are found. Their geographic range occurs in the southeastern Coastal Plain from the Mobile River delta in Alabama east to North Carolina, with disjunct populations in Central Alabama and the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. Historically, the gopher frog has occurred throughout Florida except for the Everglades region. Their presence is closely linked to that of gopher tortoises, due to their reliance on gopher tortoise burrows for shelter and food. Gopher tortoise burrows are especially important to the survival of newly metamorphosed gopher frogs, as they depend on these and other underground refuges for survival.
Until recently, the gopher frog was listed as a Species of Special Concern by the FWC. Gopher frogs were delisted in Florida in 2017 because conservation successes have improved their status; however, this species remains part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan to provide guidance for monitoring and conservation to ensure their continued survival.
The Florida mouse (Podomys floridanus) is distinguished from other rodents in Florida by its relatively large ears, eyes, and hind feet. Adults typically have distinct orange-buff colored patches on cheeks, shoulders, and lower sides. They occupy fire-maintained, dry upland habitats such as scrub, scrubby flatwoods, and sandhill ecosystems. The Florida mouse is native to Florida and only occurs in the northern two-thirds of peninsular Florida. Because the Florida mouse depends on gopher tortoise burrows as sites for excavation of its own burrows, this species is highly vulnerable to loss or decline of gopher tortoises. The gopher tortoise burrow provides shelter and protection during dispersal and from fire and adverse weather. Florida mice construct their burrows as small, U-shaped tunnels off the sides of the main gopher tortoise burrow. The burrows made by the mice also serve as nesting sites, with expanding nesting chambers usually present.
The Florida mouse was delisted by the FWC in Florida in 2017 because conservation successes have improved their status. To provide guidance on continued monitoring and conservation efforts, the Florida mouse remains part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is the largest venomous snake in North America, reaching a maximum length of 96 inches. Most, however, range from 39 to 59 inches and can be identified by the characteristic diamond-shaped splotches running down their back. As their name suggests, these snakes have a brown and white ringed tail tipped with a rattle. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is found in longleaf pine habitats, old fields, floodplains, hardwood hammocks, dry prairies, and coastal strands. Its range probably remains statewide in appropriate habitats, including the barrier islands and keys. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes require large tracts of open-canopy habitats. Open-canopy conditions with diverse, herbaceous ground cover provide structure and a food base for the rattlesnakes’ primary prey species, rodents and rabbits. This species ranges from North Carolina south along the coastal plain to Florida and westward to eastern portions of Louisiana. In addition to stump holes and other underground shelter sites, these snakes use gopher tortoise burrows as seasonal refuges.
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is considered a priority vertebrate commensal by the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan but is not currently listed by either FWC or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as an imperiled species. Because of continued population declines throughout the eastern diamondback’s range, this species is under a status review by the USFWS to determine if federal listing is warranted
Eastern Indigo Snake
The eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) is the second longest snake native to the United States. They can reach 103 inches in length, although most adults are between 54 and 90 inches. They are uniformly blue-black except for reddish to cream coloring on the chin and throat. In the northern part of its range, the eastern indigo snake prefers dry habitats near water. However in South Florida, they are also found in a variety of wet habitats such as freshwater marshes and streams. Historically, they have occurred from southeastern Georgia, throughout Florida, to southern Alabama and southeastern Mississippi. In northern Florida and southern Georgia, eastern indigo snakes depend on gopher tortoise burrows for refuge from extreme temperatures and to prevent drying out. They have also been known to prey on small gopher tortoises.
The eastern indigo snake is protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.
Florida Pine Snake
The Florida Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus) is a large, nonvenomous snake with dark brown to reddish blotches on a gray to sandy-colored background. They range in length from 48 to 66 inches, with a maximum recorded length of 90 inches. Florida pine snakes occupy large areas of fire-maintained, open canopy, dry habitats that include sandhill, old fields, pastures, sand pine scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. Geographically, pine snakes are found in the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, from South Carolina to South Florida, west to Mobile Bay, Alabama. In addition to pocket gopher burrows and stump holes, Florida pine snakes use gopher tortoise burrows to forage, nest, and escape adverse weather conditions or fire. It is estimated that they spend up to 70-80% of their time underground.
Until recently, the Florida pine snake was listed as a Species of Special Concern by the FWC. In 2018, the species’ status was reclassified as a State-designated Threatened species after a Biological Status Review determined that the Florida pine snake met criteria for state listing.