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Slimantics: Gopher Frogs: They've lost that lovin' feelin'


Slim Smith



As part of its mission as a research university, the folks at Mississippi State are always up to something interesting. Hardly a week goes by that we do not receive a press release that provides details of research projects the university is working on. Some are more interesting than others, obviously. 


Thursday, the MSU agricultural department passed along some information on a project that immediately caught my attention. 


Don't look now, but we're about to run out of gopher frogs. 


If you are like me, your first impulse is to run out in the street, screaming hysterically. A world without gopher frogs? I shudder at the thought. 


Fortunately, a couple of researchers at MSU are trying to help conservationists find a way to increase the gopher frog population. Until recently, the only known colony of gopher frogs lived in a single pond in Harrison County. Recently, however, gopher frogs have been spotted in three ponds in DeSoto National Forest. Even with that discovery, the estimated population of gopher frogs living in the wild is just 100 to 200. A population that small puts the survival of the species at a significant risk. 


More than 700 gopher frogs live in captivity, for reasons I cannot imagine. Of that number, 34 adult gopher frogs are now croaking away at MSU's Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, a donation from the Memphis Zoo. MSU researchers are hoping to encourage the frogs to breed in captivity and thereby boost the population. 


The press release notes that gopher frogs are "explosive breeders." Hey, weren't we all, you know, back in the day? 


To clarify what the researchers mean by "explosive breeders," the term is used to explain that the frogs don't give much thought to breeding until the conditions are "just so."  


"They need an event, such as a torrential downpour, and then they all move in one night to the same pond and mate," said Ceclia Langhorne, one of the researchers. 


Basically, she is describing the frog version of Woodstock. 


Just as it was at Woodstock, the frogs congregate at temporary ponds -- the kind that fill quickly and dry up before long, at which point I suppose the frogs all return to college, move to the suburbs and buy Apple products. 


It is unfortunate that the researchers did not think to bring their 34 frogs to Columbus and turn them loose at the beginning of the month. Just half-way through the month, we've had a foot of rain here, by some estimates. We would have had frogs coming out of our ears by now. 


Instead, the researchers have been trying to get the frogs to breed in captivity, not unlike prisons that allow conjugal visits, I suppose.  


It hasn't exactly worked, though. All of the successful breeding so far has been through in vitro fertilizations because the female frogs show no interest in laying eggs. Perhaps they are more focused on a career. No one can say for certain. 


As of the moment, most of the focus of the research has been on ways of inducing the female frogs to lay eggs. They are working with various hormone treatments to get the females to lay eggs. 


Now I'm no frog expert, but I am familiar with what the French call, "affaires de cœur." It is my humble opinion that the researchers are barking up the wrong tree in the sense that the male frogs are getting a pass here.  


That's a mistake, I think. I mean, just look at those male frogs: They are impossibly overweight. Their skin is awful. They are terrible conversationalists. They just lay around on lily-pads all day, probably content to get high (I suspect toad-licking is their high of choice). And the female frogs are supposed to be attracted to this?  


I think a much better strategy would be to get the male frogs into some sort of career counseling.  


We could also have our Tea Party administration insist on state-wide abstinence-only curriculum for frogs. It certainly does the trick among Mississippi humans as the state continues to lead the nation in teen pregnancies. 


They might also pipe in the soundtrack from Woodstock. 


Peace, love and frogs.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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