The Gopher Frog Scramble

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The Gopher Frog Scramble

Early Season Success in the South

Spring is barely a month old and we’re already thrilled (and overwhelmed) by a series of unprecedented successes across the warmer, southern states. The first started with a mid-winter Gopher Frog event that almost caught everyone off guard.

Last summer, Melanie Olds and James Henne of US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Will Dillman and Andrew Grosse of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), initiated a head-starting program in South Carolina to get gopher tadpoles past the vulnerable larvae stage before re-releasing them as froglets. Building on successful models implemented in North Carolina and Georgia, a protocol was developed and team captains from ARC, FWS, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and SCDNR were appointed to represent each partner and each was assigned its duties.

20190216_Gena Lyons_FMNF Egg Mass Collection
Gene Lyons collecting Gopher Frog Eggs

Coordinating this joint effort was a victory in and of itself. Now, we needed a breeding event to give it a test drive. We got one and, wow, it couldn’t have come at a more challenging time.

It was quitting time on the Friday before the long President’s Day weekend and to make matters worse, half of our team captains were in the midst of the SEPARC meeting over 200 miles away.

Since the temperatures and rainfall had been slightly above normal, Ben Morrison (ARC) finished up his weekly routine by checking for gopher frog egg masses. To his surprise, he found five egg masses and quickly called me, unknowing if they were for sure gopher frogs due to advance stage of development. “They’re about to hatch, we’ve got to do this tomorrow.”

At that time, the scramble began with texting, sending video, making multiple phone calls, determining if they were indeed gopher frog tadpoles. All in the hopes that collection could happen ASAP.

Team captains, Melanie Olds and Andrew Grosse, were sitting together at an SEPARC presentation and could barely contain their excitement. Finally, after the session ended, they were able to gather up all of the expert partners from across the region to review the videos and offer advice.

It was determined that even if the eggs end up not being gopher frogs eggs, that there was knowledge to be gained, so Melanie and Andrew made the call to “Get eggs now.”

We systematically worked through a remarkably complex webs of logistics and communication, and were in the pond with Gena Lyons (USFWS) the next morning collecting small samples from each egg mass. Gena carefully drove the eggs back to the hatchery just in the nick of time — the eggs started hatching that very evening.

Now, we have whole bunch of tadpoles at the hatchery in a predator- and drought-proof environment, growing up big and strong.

But we’re just getting started! Just wait until the bigger, warmer rains come later this spring. Elsewhere in the Deep South, we’ve already seen more Frosted Flatwoods Salamanders in two days than in the previous decade combined! (More on that to come.)