The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County has released a new batch of endangered frogs into the wild in the hopes that this species of amphibian can leap its way away from extinction by reproducing inside the refuge.
On Friday, 56 dusky gopher frogs were released, which brings the total number of frogs that have been released since May to 1,074.
The dusky gopher frog is indigenous to Harrison County and has been included in the list of endangered species since 2001. The frog is characterized as stocky with body length measuring about 3 inches.
One notable feature of this endangered frog is it puts its hands in front of its face to shield its eyes if it feels threatened or exposed to bright light.
Angie Dedrickson, a wildlife biologist, said that they are taking the frog's population from Harrison County to Jackson Country. The frogs hatched in Saucier but the tadpoles are moved to the refuge, which also houses another critically endangered species, the Mississippi sandhill crane.
The tadpoles are divided into 50 tanks that contain water, sweet gum leaves and pine straw in an attempt to recreate the animals' habitat. Once the tadpoles mature into frogs, they are released into the wild.
Tracking device is placed in the left leg of the frogs before they are released to the pond. Tagging the amphibians is necessary so their progress can be followed. Although the duration from birth to release only takes a few months, Dedrickson said that it will still require years before they can measure the project's success.
Although the male frogs are ready to reproduce at 1 year old, the females had to be between 2 and 4 years old before they can be reproductively mature. Dedrickson said that it may take at least two years before they will know how the frogs fare at repopulating the area.
The dusty gopher frog has many known natural predators and these include snakes, cranes and spiders. Melissa Perez, a ranger from the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, however, said that the frog's greatest enemy is the shrinking natural environment.
"The wet-pines savannah that makes up our refuge is a critically endangered area," Perez said adding that it is not a coincidence that the population of the endangered frogs continue to drop as the refuge gets smaller.