Gopher Frog (Rana [Lithobates] capito)

Photos by Amanda Hurst unless otherwise noted

Description: Gopher frogs noted for their short, stubby appearance. Adults are generally 3 to 3.5 inches in length. Their backs are marked heavily with dark spots, sometimes causing a clouded pattern and they can be warty, making some think they look toad-like. Their dorsolateral ridges are very distinctive. The gopher frog usually spends daylight hours in underground refugia such as stump holes or burrows, holes, or tunnels created by other animals. They are mainly found on the Coastal Plain. The gopher frog breeds on spring nights in very wet conditions. They are rare and their secretive nature makes it difficult to determine their actual population status.

Range and Habitat: Gopher frogs are found in most southeast areas of the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plains. They go as far north as east-central North Carolina and southward into Florida except for the southern tip. Adults and juveniles appear in dry habitats such as longleaf pine, scrub oak forest, bottomland hardwoods, and pine flatwoods. In areas where gopher tortoises occur, you will often find gopher frogs. These frogs will use the gopher tortoises’ burrows as refugia. If a gopher tortoise burrow is unavailable, they use crayfish holes, small mammal burrows, or other underground openings. Aquatic breeding sites occur in ephemeral wetlands in upland and lowland habitats that lack predatory fish.

Habits: Gopher frogs spend much of the day in underground refugia but come to the surface to forage around the opening. Their movements on the surface can create a cleared spot called a “pad.” Adults may travel over a mile to reach a wetland site for breeding. A female may lay between 1,000-2,000 eggs in rounded clusters near vegetation. Adults may breed throughout the year if conditions are right. Tadpoles may metamorphose in 4-7 months depending on environmental conditions. Gopher frogs can live for 6 to 7 years and are presumed to remain sexually active during the entire time. Typically, a single gopher frog occupies a burrow. Gopher frogs are now generally rare.

Call: The call of a gopher frog is sometimes described as “snoring”. A chorus may sound like a low-pitched roar.

Conservation Status: Gopher frog populations are declining throughout most of its range. They are state endangered in Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina; imperiled in Florida, and considered a species of special concern in Georgia. Some factors leading to its decline include urban development, forestry practices, and agriculture.

Pertinent References:
Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Dorcas, Mike, and Whit Gibbons. Frogs and Toads of the Southeast. Athens: University of Georgia, 2008.

Jensen, John B., Carlos D. Camp, Whit Gibbons, and Matt J. Elliott. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia, 2008.

Account Author: Lindsay Partymiller – Edited by Katrina M. Ford

(Photo by J. D. Willson)