Sunday, November 23, 2008

Georgia Gopher Frog Project Filmed For PBS Nature Series

Gopher frogs at a glance

** The species is state-listed as rare and is protected in all states within its range.

** The frogs are found almost exclusively in the longleaf pine ecosystem of the Coastal Plain.

** Adults can grow to about 4 inches long. They spend most of their time in burrows, usually those made by gopher tortoises, in dry, upland sites

** Breeding occurs at fishless, ephemeral (or temporary) and isolated wetlands in longleaf pine forests. Suitable breeding ponds regularly go dry, meaning there are no fish to prey on tadpoles. Breeding peaks in late winter, but can be triggered by heavy rains throughout fall.

** Threats to the species include destruction and changes to favored uplands and wetlands, fish stocked in breeding wetlands, draining wetlands, the decline of gopher tortoises and a lack of natural and prescribed fires.

** Gopher frogs have been found at fewer than 10 sites in Georgia.

They may not have the most photogenic mug, but Georgia’s gopher frogs are making the jump to television.

Award-winning ArgoFilms recorded the recent release of gopher frog metamorphs and tadpoles at Williams Bluffs Nature Preserve for Public Broadcasting System’s Nature series.

Filmmaker Allison Argo sees the restoration project in Early County as “one of the few ... positively good news stories" about amphibians. The one-hour documentary, tentatively scheduled for broadcast in spring, will explore the global decline of amphibians, Argo said.

The work at Williams Bluffs is a partnership involving the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, Atlanta Botanical Garden, The Nature Conservancy and Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center. The goal: Establish a gopher frog population at the 1,980-acre preserve near Blakely. The project is supported by sales of Georgia’s bald eagle and hummingbird license plates and donations to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff.

Gopher frogs are listed as rare throughout their six-state range. They have been documented at fewer than 10 sites in Georgia. Threats to the species, found almost exclusively in the Coastal Plain’s longleaf pine ecosystem, include habitat destruction, the lack of natural and prescribed fires, fish stocked in the frogs’ breeding areas, and the decline of gopher tortoises, which dig burrows the like-named frogs also use.

With a camera running Sept. 11, biologists eased 32 metamorphs and 157 tadpoles into a shallow, seasonal pond. A similar release in August 2007 marked the start of the multiyear project and a first for the frog in this state.

But this time, a tropical storm – Fay – had swamped South Georgia, filling the ephemeral ponds where gopher frogs breed and avoiding last year’s situation where biologists had to create an artificial pond for the legged tadpoles and metamorphs, or young frogs with developed lungs and four legs that no longer need the water.

John Jensen, a senior wildlife biologist with Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, said within a few years the frogs might mature to the point they are returning to the pond to breed. Biologists will then search for egg masses following heavy winter rains, the peak season and weather event for breeding, and set up pitfall traps along a drift fence to catch adult frogs.

Biologists marked legged tadpoles and metamorphs by injecting a fluorescent red elastomer, or rubber, dye under the skin.

According to Argo, a Cape Cod, Mass., filmmaker whose awards include five national Emmys, the documentary will focus attention on the fragile status of amphibians. “More than anything it’s habitat loss and degradation,” Argo said. “And it’s important for the public to be aware of that.”

She said filming was done throughout the U.S and, in Panama and Australia. Read more about ArgoFilms at

In Georgia, sales of the nongame wildlife license plates and the Give Wildlife a Chance income tax checkoff benefit conservation of gopher frogs and other rare species. Both programs are fundraisers for the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds for its mission to help conserve Georgia wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in the state.

The license plates – featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird – are available for a one-time $25 fee at county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registrations and through online renewals (

For the checkoff, fill in an amount more than $1 on line 26 of the long state income tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500EZ). Contributions can be deducted from refunds or added to payments.

Visit for more information, or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).

Georgia Front Page
Fayette Front Page

No comments: