Updated: Nov 11, 2020
A Dusky Gopher Frog sits on decomposing leaves. You can find the original here.
Population size: Assumed to be 60-100 individual adults in the wild
Endangered Status: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
The most endangered species of amphibians in North America that can experience the direct consequences of the political turmoil and polarized parties is the Dusky Gopher Frog. Once very widespread throughout the Southeast, the Dusky Gopher Frog or Lithobates sevosus is only found in three known locations within Louisiana as the rest of the populations have disappeared in recent years. They reproduce and maintain populations near sea level to sixty-five meters above sea level around Glen’s Pond in Desoto National Forest located in Harrison County, Mississippi, but they have also have been spotted near Mike’s Pond and McCoy’s Pond. They typically live in forests with longleaf pine or cloistered temperate wetlands and will use abandoned burrows from gopher tortoises or mammals to remain close to the ponds.
Dusky Gopher Frogs are medium-sized amphibians that are rarely sighted. They measure from 5.6 to 10.5 cm, and tadpoles are about 7.4 cm long, requiring 81 to 179 days to develop. Their dark and wart-filled backs, which vary from uniform black to dark grey, with noticeable ridges and spotted mouths can help distinguish them from other species. The Dusky Gopher Frog has a large mouth and head but short and thick limbs with minimal amount of webbing between their toes. Tadpoles are herbaceous by feeding on decaying plant matter within the ponds, however adult males are insectivores and help prevent the outbreaks of mosquitoes carrying deadly diseases by consuming them and their eggs. When threatened by predators, they secrete pungent liquid from their backs and cover their eyes with their hind feet to deter the predators from attacking them.
Human activities such as deforestation, fragmentation, and degradation have severely diminished the chances of survival for Dusky Gopher Frogs. Similarly, the deforestation of the forests that once dominated the Southeast (less than 2% of the forests still remain) has circumscribed the areas the Dusky Gopher Frog can live in, reducing their range. Fire suppression by humans eliminates necessary fires that destroy woody vegetation and allow for the growth of grassy vegetation, necessary for the frogs due to their inability to traverse through woody vegetation. The grassy vegetation motivates Gopher Tortoises to reproduce and dig burrows nearby, thus the lack of herbaceous vegetation may warn off them from digging burrows which the frogs require to live in for most of their lives. Human intervention in the conversion of the longleaf pine forests into slash pine or loblolly pine has proven detrimental to their overall survival. Commercial and residential urbanization of the forests further prevent the development of areas that may suit the frogs’ needs, especially after the attraction of numerous people from the new gambling casinos. The construction of roads can conceal and cover up burrows essential to their survival.
In addition, biological and ecological factors potentially endanger their survival. More than 90% of their tadpoles perish from two fungal diseases like the chytridiomycosis, a fatal disease for amphibians worldwide. The limited population size and opportunities for reproduction increases the probability of inbreeding among the species and decreases the genetic variation among populations, causing each generation to be susceptible to the disease. Also, pesticides and insecticides may harm them as they consume aquatic larvae which are affected. Climate change may affect the rain patterns of the area which determines how long the ephemeral ponds can last before evaporating. Because they favor ephemeral or temporary ponds for the lack of fish that consume their eggs, the availability of their ponds can ultimately dictate the stability and sustainability of a population.
Weyerhaeuser Company v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in which Edward B. Poitevent II, the owner of most of Unit 1 in St. Tammany Parish with the support Weyerhaeuser Company to sue for the control over his land. Unit 1 is a 1,544-acre plot of land and one of five locations with propitious environment settings for the Dusky Gopher Frogs that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services plan to modify to create more stable populations, but Poitevent believes the frogs will not appear on his land in the near future. Although the lands contain ephemeral ponds, crucial for their survival, the areas lack key components of the environment like open canopies, yet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintain that these lands can be easily altered for the Dusky Gopher Frogs. Fundamentally, the Supreme Court’s decision will settle two questions that can affect conservation efforts for other endangered species: whether critical habitats must be livable for the endangered animals in their current state and whether to exclude particular areas for their economic impact.
Written by — Edward Keenan
The male’s mating call of the Dusky Gopher Frog actually sounds like a deep and long snore
Males can attract females with their mating calls while underwater
Females require 3-6 times the amount of time (about 24-36 months) for maturity than males (about 6-8 months)
Females will lay between 500 and 3,000 eggs in one location
Average lifespan is less than 7 years due to breeding ponds drying up before tadpoles reach full maturity
How You Can Help
The Center for Biological Diversity advocates for the protection of land reserved for the Dusky Gopher Frogs and plans with Gulf Restoration Network and Columbus Communities to create areas within Harrison Mississippi for the Dusky Gopher Frogs.
Helping restoration efforts, the Detroit Zoo among other zoos nurtured and raised Dusky Gopher Frogs to introduce into the population, ultimately releasing 300 adults with tracking IDs in 2018.
To protect the Dusky Gopher Frogs from the Weyerhauser Company, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is defending the protection of the land before the Supreme Court for the restoration of the Dusky Gopher Frogs.
Write to a Supreme Court justice to show your support for this endangered species.
Supreme Court’s Address: One First St., NE, Washington, DC 20543
Supreme Court’s Phone Number: 1-202-479-3000