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GOPHER FROG } Rana capito

RANGE: Throughout the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina)

STATUS: The World Conservation Union lists the gopher frog as Near Threatened. It is classified as Threatened in Florida and Alabama, and of Special Concern inNorth Carolina.

THREATS: Loss and alteration of upland and wetland habitats and burrows; fire suppression resulting in buildup of peat in wetlands, increasing water acidity; fish introduced into breeding ponds, which eat the frogs; and declines of gopher tortoises and tree stump removal, which have reduced burrows and retreats

Gopher frogs inhabit the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plains from Alabama to North Carolina. They make their homes in dry, fire-enhanced habitats, especially longleaf pine/turkey oak sandhill. The adult frogs seek refuge in burrows — mainly those of gopher tortoises — and breed in shallow ponds with an open canopy. Gopher frogs are one of more than 57 vertebrates known to use the burrows of gopher tortoises. So what’s so great about gopher tortoise burrows? They offer a refuge to avoid fires, protection from predators, and escape from excessively cold or warm temperatures. But the gopher frog’s longleaf pine habitat has been reduced to less than 5 percent of its historical range. Gopher frogs were active at as few as 35 of 83 known breeding sites in the mid-1990s in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Photo by John Jensen