The Carolina gopher frog (Rana capito) is a medium-size frog found throughout the coastal plain of the Southeastern United States. This species is rare throughout its range, and along with its close cousin the Mississippi gopher frog (Rana servosa) is listed as rare, threatened or endangered in many states. Adult Carolina gopher frogs are carnivores like all frogs, but the tadpoles primarily consume algae.
Habitat and Natural History
Carolina gopher frogs usually live in the longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem. Their colloquial name refers to the preferred habitat of these amphibians—gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrows—but they will also live in pine stumps, mammal burrows and other sheltered spots. No matter what type of refuge is chosen, gopher frogs exhibit strong site fidelity, and have a repetitive daily routine. Gopher frogs travel to the mouth of the burrow each night to ambush their prey; this repetitive behavior often creates “platforms” of cleared vegetation.
Carolina gopher frogs deposit their eggs in shallow, ephemeral pools devoid of predatory fish. When the tadpoles hatch, they use their mouths to filter food from the water column. Specific dietary accounts of gopher frog larvae are lacking; but several Rana species indiscriminately consume algae and detritus. This was first demonstrated in a 1967 study, published in “Copeia.” In the study, Thomas a Jenssen showed that the proportion of organisms in the stomachs of green frog (Rana clamitans) larvae—a close relative of the gopher frog—matched the proportions of those organisms found in the water. More recently, a 2003 study, published in “Norse Scientist,” by Jennifer K. Quammen and Dr. Richard D. Durtsche, compared the diets of three tadpole species, including one species of the genus Rana. Though the Rana species did exhibit a stronger tendency towards carnivory than the other species in the test, animal-based foods represented an insignificant portion of the diet.
Adults primarily consume invertebrates. Beetles, crickets and flies are important components of the diet; but gopher frogs are very aggressive predators that will consume any invertebrate that they can physically handle. Insects often live at the mouths of gopher tortoise burrows, and the frogs benefit from this valuable resource. Gopher frogs grasp prey with their jaws or sticky tongue and swallow it whole.
Other Frogs as Food
Carolina gopher frogs don’t limit their predation to invertebrates, and occasionally consume other frogs. Though gopher frogs probably don’t discriminate much between the different species of frog, they frequently consume toads (Bufo sp.). This high rate of predation probably has to do with the exceptionally small size of newly metamorphosed toads.
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