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Detroit Zoo-born dusky gopher frogs released into the wild

Frogs released in Mississippi wild for the first time

A Gopher frog (Detroit Zoo)
A Gopher frog (Detroit Zoo)

DETROIT, Mich – Twenty-five dusky gopher frogs that were bred at the Detroit Zoo's National Amphibian Conservation Center were released in Mississippi's Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area this month as part of a cooperative program to restore a wild population of the critically endangered amphibian.

The event marks the first time that dusky gopher frogs bred at the Detroit Zoo were released into the wild. Three other zoos -- Omaha, Memphis and Dallas -- also participated in this event, together releasing more than 300 frogs. The amphibians are tagged with identification to track their survival.

A Wyoming toad (Detroit Zoo)
A Wyoming toad (Detroit Zoo)

"It was gratifying to watch the frogs hopping off into the pond and peering at us on the shoreline. They looked completely at home, snapping at flies and acting like frogs," said Dr. Ruth Marcec, director of the National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo.

Once abundant throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, dusky gopher frogs were nearly extinct. This species has an estimated population of less than 135 adults left in the wild, making it one of the top 100 most endangered species in the world, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

"With nearly half of the world's known 7,878 amphibian species threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, infectious diseases and other factors, bolstering the population of these amphibians in their natural environment is critical to their survival," Marcec said.

Dusky gopher frogs (Lithobates sevosus) -- formerly known as Mississippi gopher frogs -- are medium-sized frogs that are black, brown or gray with dark spots and ridges along their backs. Their skin is covered with bumpy glands that secrete a coating that protects their skin. When picked up, they cover their eyes with their forefeet, possibly to protect their faces until predators taste their bitter, milky skin secretions and drop them. They have loud, guttural calls that sound like snoring.

A Puerto Rican crested toad (Detroit Zoo)
A Puerto Rican crested toad (Detroit Zoo)

The release of the dusky gopher frogs caps a year of other successes for the Detroit Zoological Society's (DZS's) breeding program for critically endangered amphibians. In June, 11,226 Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles were released in the El Tallonal biological reserve, joining more than 52,000 Detroit Zoo-born tadpoles released in Puerto Rico over the past decade. In addition, 577 Wyoming toad tadpoles were sent to the Red Buttes Environmental Lan for release in a protected wetland in Wyoming's Laramie Basin. Also, 61 juvenile striped newts were released in three wetlands in Florida's Apalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee.

"It's exciting to share our continued success with our amphibian breeding programs. We are committed to ensuring the survival of these species for many years to come," Marcec said.

The dusky gopher frogs at the Detroit Zoo's National Amphibian Conservation Center live in special bio-secure rooms behind the scenes and are not viewable to the public. The Zoo population serves as insurance against extinction until the species can be adequately protected in the sild and suitable locations are found for release.

When the National Amphibian Conservation Center opened at the Detroit Zoo in 2000, it was the first major facility dedicated entirely to conserving and exhibiting amphibians. The award-winning, state-of-the-art and part of cooperative management programs.

Striped newt (Detroit Zoo)
Striped newt (Detroit Zoo)

The Detroit Zoological Society -- a renowned leader in humane education, wildlife conservation, animal welfare and environmental sustainability-- operates the Detroit Zoo and Bell Isle Nature Center. In recognition of its environmental leadership, the DZS received the top Green Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and was named Best-Managed Nonprofit by Crain's Detroit Business. With an annual regional economic impact of more than $100 million, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is one of Michigan's largest paid attractions, hosting more than 1.5 million visitors annually. Its 125 acres of award-winning naturalistic habitats are home to 2,000 animals representing 230 species. The Belle Isle Nature Center sits on a 5-acre site surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands on Belle Isle State Park in Detroit. It provides year-round educational, recreational and environmental conservation opportunities for the community. For hours, prices, directions and other information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.