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Florida Gopher Frog Occurrence and Behavior at Green Ponds

Eglin AFB, Okaloosa Co., FL


(Above) Florida Gopher frog (Rana capito aesopus) - Eglin AFB, Okaloosa Co., FL.



  From 10 November, 1986 through 26 January, 1990, while enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, I was stationed at Eglin AFB, FL.  During this time I thoroughly explored and conducted a variety of natural history surveys on one of the largest and most biologically diverse areas of land remaining in the Southeast, which is the Eglin AFB reservation.  Eglin AFB comprises significant portions of three northwest Florida counties (Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton) and is 724 square miles in size!

  During a herpetofaunal inventory of Green Ponds, at Eglin AFB, FL, two unique occurrences of Florida Gopher frogs (Rana capito aesopus) were documented.  Herpetofaunal inventories were conducted from 20 February, 1989 through 20 January, 1990.  Drift fence inventory work was primarily conducted from 26 February to 28 November, 1989.    

  Green Ponds are located four kilometers west, northwest of Valparaiso (Okaloosa Co.), Florida.  The aerial photo below identifies the locations of Green ponds.  Green Ponds are a series of isolated, ephemeral, flatwood wetlands.  At least six ponds are found in the series of wetlands.  Portions of Green ponds also occur in an ecotonal community between Longleaf Pine sandhills and mesic flatwoods.  The two largest ponds are approximately one hectare in size each.  The four remaining ponds are smaller and vary in size.  The two larger ponds retained water throughout the study period, while the two smallest ponds dried partially.

  During the drift fence inventory I captured two juvenile Florida Gopher frogs leaving the study pond on 9 August, 1989.  The two small frogs measured 37 mm and 39 mm total body length.

  Of particular interest was the documentation of a large adult Florida Gopher frog utilizing an abandoned Pocket Gopher (Geomys pinetis) burrow.  After nightfall, on three dates and four occurrences, I documented the Gopher frog at the mouth of the burrow, or just within the entrance of the burrow.  The small burrow was located where I would park my vehicle and walk downhill to my drift fence arrays, and was near the top of a sandhill above and east of Green Ponds.  The burrow was located in the middle of the remains of a small hill of sand that a Pocket Gopher had pushed to the surface. 

  I observed the Gopher frog on the dates below.  I also observed the Gopher frog at the mouth of the burrow at least three to four additional times, but did not document its occurrence every time.  If I approached the frog too fast or too closely, it would quickly back down inside the burrow.  However, if I kept a distance of at least five feet away from the burrow the frog would remain at or just outside the burrow entrance.  On the first night I observed the frog it appeared that the animal was foraging. 


Florida Gopher Frog Observations – at a Pocket Gopher burrow:


1) 17 June, 1989: Approx. 1900 hrs & approx. 2030 hrs.

2) 1 July, 1989

3) 27 September, 1989


  No Gopher tortoises or their burrows remained anywhere nearby this pocket gopher burrow or Green Ponds.  In the absence of tortoise burrows, it is interesting that the Gopher frog utilized and maintained the old pocket gopher burrow for at least three and one half months.  Also, during the day of February 26th, 1992 I noticed that the small burrow was still open and being maintained, however I did not notice the Gopher frog in the burrow being daylight outside.  

  In addition to the two above Florida Gopher frog records I also documented four other Gopher frog occurrences on Eglin AFB.  The four additional records are noted below.  All six Eglin AFB Florida Gopher frog records have been submitted to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.


1) 19 February, 1988.  Okaloosa Co., FL.  Eglin AFB.  DOR.  Range road (RR) 213, 9/10 mile sw Jct. RR 257.  Near Holley Ponds.  0130 hrs.  Deposited in the FL Museum of Natural History, UF#69318.


2) 24 January, 1990.  Okaloosa Co., FL.  Eglin AFB.  Green ponds.  Adult male caught crossing path on east side of ponds in rain.  95 mm total length.


3) 2 May, 1990.  Okaloosa Co., FL.  Eglin AFB.  AOR.  RR 236, c. 1/10 mile north Jct. RR 239.  In vicinity of Green Ponds.  Adult, crossing road east to west.


4) 26 February, 1992.  Okaloosa Co., FL.  Eglin AFB.  Holley ponds.  Found dead frog floating in pond – gave to John Palis.  Interestingly there was a small adult American Alligator on the bottom of the pond within a few feet from this frog.  It was however a cool morning and I'm not sure if the Alligator was the cause of death of the Gopher frog.      


  Eglin AFB contains one of the largest contiguous areas of sandhill habitat remaining in the entire Southeast.  Even more importantly is the preservation of ephemeral wetlands within Eglin which are vital to the breeding success for thousands of amphibians, reptiles and wading birds, and they support numerous other wildlife and plant species.  The records of Florida Gopher frogs within this report, found in the vicinity of Green Ponds and Holley pond, documents and highlights the use and importance of such ephemeral wetlands by a rare species in Florida.


Pg. 6 Summary of Herpetofaunal Studies