Sunday, March 24, 2013

At the Gopher Frog Release Site

Williams Bluff. The beautiful release site of head-started Gopher frogs on protected Nature Conservancy land.
This week, I had the opportunity to join Dr Maerz from UGA with Robert Hill and David Brothers from Zoo Atlanta to help sample Gopher frogs at the release site in Early County, GA. Gopher frogs (Lithobates capito) inhabit burrows but don't build them themselves. They 'share' underground accommodations made by Gopher tortoises, Pocket gophers and mother nature (i.e. tree stumps).

It's not easy to find a frog which lives underground ... and this was my first opportunity to use a camera scope (am LED lit camera at the end of a 20' snake) so we could see down these long subterranean  burrows. We were looking for released Gopher frogs that were still making a living at the release site.

Dr John Maerz (UGA)  and Robert Hill (Zoo Atlanta) sampling a Gopher tortoise burrow with the camera scope

Zoo Atlanta's Robert Hill (top) and David Brothers working the camera down the deep tortoise burrow, looking for Gopher frogs. Notice the length of 'snake' up the left of the image, which enable the camera to view 20+ feet down into a Gopher tortoise burrow.
One of the factors contributing to the decline of Gopher frogs is habitat loss. Loose sandy soils, with Long leaf pine and Wire grass (pictured above) has been altered, developed and generally reduced across the SE US. As a result, animals which rely on this habitat, such as: Gopher tortoises, Gopher frogs and Indigo snakes are in decline.
A Gopher tortoise detection! Which typically signifies you have reached the bottom of the burrow. 
John Maerz shows off a particularly colorful male Sceloporus. (check out the blue chin)
A closer shot of the beautiful Sceloporus
A dense 'cloud' of Scaphiopus larvae. Spadefoot toads are one of the author's absolute favorite species
A wider view of the Spadefoot toad cloud, with the outline drawn on the insert. Spadefoots are explosive and rapid breeders, and can go from egg to toadlet in as few as 8 days!
I had a wonderful time in south Georgia, and I hope to have many more opportunities there!