Gopher Frog Head Start Program

The Gopher Frog Head Start Program is aimed at renewing the declining population of the native Gopher Frog (Rana capito). The Atlanta Botanical Garden has been releasing Gopher Frogs onto a protected Nature Conservancy site since 2007. Since the beginning of this project, over 2,000 young Gopher Frogs have been released. Beginning in 2012, Garden staff hope to begin monitoring the site with collaborators to determine if any of these frogs are returning to breed. During the Spring and Summer months, developing Gopher Frog tadpoles can be viewed in the Fuqua Orchid Center.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden, in partnership with the University of Georgia, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy, Jones Ecological Research Center, and Zoo Atlanta, collects portions of wild Gopher Frog egg masses so that they can be reared in captivity. The resulting tadpoles are safely grown in Atlanta Botanical Garden facilities until they metamorphose into froglets. At this point they are transported to a Nature Conservancy preserve in southwestern Georgia that has all of the right environmental conditions, but no Gopher Frogs. These released frogs have also been marked with a special acrylic elastomer, basically a frog tattoo, so that if they are recaptured in the future, biologists will know when they were released.

Head starting programs allow populations of an endangered species to enjoy greater annual recruitment than would normally exist in nature by raising larval amphibians in the safe confines of a laboratory, to be released into a preserve as subadults. The success of the Gopher Frog Head Start Program will make it possible to restore other populations of this rare and unique creature.