Protecting North Carolina’s Frogs in the Sandhills Region

North Carolina Zoo is helping to save several of North Carolina’s rare frogs that call the Sandhills Region home. One such species is our state frog ¬– the Pine Barrens treefrog. Through regular population censuses, we are learning more about what Pine Barrens treefrogs needs to survive and flourish in the wild. The Zoo is also working to save gopher frogs and ornate chorus frogs. By raising tadpoles from wild eggs and releasing them back into the wild, the Zoo is increasing these amphibian species’ chance of survival and helping to grow and maintain healthy wild populations.


Focus on our State Frog

The Pine Barrens treefrog, North Carolina’s state frog, can be found in portions of the Sandhills and the coastal plain. These specialized frogs utilize the drains and seeps that are too acidic and temporary for many species to successfully reproduce. Unfortunately, these treefrogs have disappeared from many parts of their historic range due to habitat loss and fire suppression, which is necessary to maintain their habitat. 

Since 2014 the North Carolina Zoo has partnered with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission to learn more about this secretive species. Using radio telemetry and regular censuses, we are monitoring the distribution and movements of this species to get a clearer understanding of their preferred habitat. Our goal is to continue to learn more about the population dynamics of the species throughout North Carolina and identify the most effective ways of ensuring this spectacular frog remains part of the landscape. One of the preliminary results from this study has been the discovery of several new distribution records for the treefrog.


Giving Gopher Frogs a Headstart

Working in collaboration with North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the North Carolina Zoo has recently begun a new program with one of the state’s rarest amphibians. The secretive Carolina gopher frog primarily lives in long leaf pine savannas using ephemeral wetlands for breeding. Similar to the Pine Barrens treefrog, the gopher frog has disappeared from much of their range in North Carolina because of habitat loss and poor fire management.   

In response to their decline, the North Carolina Zoo is collecting eggs from the wild and then raising tadpoles for release back to where they were found. To avoid harming wild populations, only a small portion of each egg mass that is found is collected. The eggs are brought back to the zoo, monitored closely, and then hatched. Up to 750 tadpoles can be raised in the ten 300-gallon tubs dedicated for this purpose. After a few months, tadpoles morph into small “froglets”, after which they are returned to the area where they were collected. The goal of this process, called head-starting, is to help boost the population by increasing the number of eggs that survive to be tadpoles and froglets. In the future, we hope to release gopher frogs into restored wetlands. In addition, since 2017 the Zoo has also reared some gopher frogs to monitor. A portion of these recently released, metamorphosed frogs, are being monitored with radio transmitters to learn more about their movements and habitat needs.

Expanding Our Efforts

On the heels of our successes with the Pine Barrens treefrog and Carolina gopher frog, the North Carolina Zoo has initiated a headstarting program for the ornate chorus frog in 2018. Like the gopher frog, the ornate chorus frog is considered Endangered in North Carolina. Moreover, headstarting has never been done with this species, so animals will be carefully monitored after releases to determine if this strategy will enhance breeding populations of this very rare amphibian.


Partners: North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP), North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC)