Lithobates capito

Gopher Frog

FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

The gopher frog is a member of the family Ranidae, the true frogs. Its closest relatives include the bullfrog, leopard frog and bronze frog. This species can reach sizes of 6 to 9 cm (2.4 to 3.5 in.). It has the body shape of a typical frog, but is a little more plump than other frogs, with proportionately shorter legs. Gopher frogs are typically light to dark brown with heavy blotching and numerous warts, giving it the appearance of a toad instead of a true frog. 

Scientific Name

Lithobates capito
Common Name
Gopher Frog
FWS Category
Amphibians
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

Primary prey items include earthworms, spiders, beetles, crickets, other small insects, and sometimes other frogs.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Size & Shape

Measurements

Usually 2.5 to 3.5 in. (maximum 4.25 in.)

Color & Pattern

Gopher frogs are tan to gray and have warty, or even wrinkled-looking, skin. Gopher frogs are marked irregularly on their backs and bellies with brown or black spots. They have a raised ridge down each side of their body. Like all true frogs, they have large eardrums and webbed hind feet, with very wide heads in comparison to their body.

Sound

Males use mating calls that sound like a deep snore, to attract females.

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Gopher frogs typically breed or live in isolated, temporary freshwater wetlands, which are referred to as breeding ponds. Examples of these naturally occurring ponds include Carolina bays, limesinks, flatwoods ponds and other relatedfeatures. Typical breeding ponds are isolated from flowing streams, particularly any inflows. Occasionally such ponds will have what's referred to as an outflow stream that only flows when exceptionally heavy rains fill the pond above full pool. Adults spend most of their lives in terrestrial habitats as fossorial, or underground, species, inhabiting crayfish holes, root channels, rodent burrows and other subterranean structures. They move to breeding ponds in late winter where they deposit eggs. The aquatic larva of these species may spend several months in a pond before metamorphosing to the adult form. Newly metamorphosed individuals move away from breeding ponds; they only return to these ponds when they become reproductively mature adults.

Wetland

Areas such as marshes or swamps that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture.

Forest

A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Adult gopher frogs shelter primarily in gopher tortoise burrows found in xeric, or dry, upland habitats, but will also use other subterranean areas. These underground areas provide safety from predators and a stable environment which prevents them from drying out. These secretive frogs will leave the burrow to forage during the nighttime.

Characteristic category

Life Cycle

Characteristics
Reproduction

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 sound 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.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

The range of the gopher frog in South Carolina is generally believed to have included the entire Coastal Plain. Currently, the gopher frog is only known to occur in Aiken, Barnwell, Berkeley, Charleston, Chesterfield, Colleton and Jasper counties, although historic records included Bamberg, Dorchester, Hampton and Orangeburg counties. Recent records indicate they are only present on large, public properties such as the Savannah River Site, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, as well as Francis Marion National Forest, which is owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service and at Santee Coastal Reserve, which is owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Gopher frog breeding has been documented within the last decade at these sites, with evidence of successful reproduction at both the Savannah River Site and Santee Coastal Reserve. 

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