Species Dive 8: The Ornate Chorus Frog rediscovery in Mississippi

On a global scale, human pressures threaten the survival of amphibian species at small and large scales. Frogs in particular have suffered great declines in the tropics. Declines are not quite as prevalent for North American species in the biodiverse coastal plain, but more and more biologists are noticing blips in populations once readily accessible. Species such as gopher frogs (Rana capito, R. sevosa), the Crawfish Frog (R. areolata), and the River Frog (R. hecksheri) have become restricted in range and number due to wetland destruction, habitat fragmentation, and fire suppression. Anecdotally, smaller frogs such as those in genus Acris and Pseudacris are also declining. And one species specifically, the Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata) was nearly considered extirpated from the state of Mississippi.

P. ornata is a small, boldly patterned frog that inhabits temporary ponds and shallow wetlands from the Carolinas to (historically) Louisiana along the southeastern coastal plain. Their color variation makes them a favorite for regional biologists and citizen naturalists alike; they can be rusty orange, gray, or green. Detection of P. ornata is difficult due to cryptic behaviors and quick, brief calls that may not travel far in the soundscape. At the site level, individual frogs are challenging to spot for these same reasons.

© Kevin Hutcheson
© Kevin Hutcheson
© Kevin Hutcheson

While healthy populations are known from Florida and Georgia, their status in Mississippi has been a different story. Since 2008, no ornate chorus frogs were confirmed in any wetlands they’d been documented at before. Prior to that, only 9 confirmed records occurred between 1985 and 2008 (CJ Hillard, John Tupy, pers. comm.) An exciting discovery changed this though, as acoustic survey efforts in 2022 detected presence of the species in a privately owned wetland from their historic range.

Since detecting their calls, local biologists surveyed the wetlands and documented three calling males in January 2023. On another survey in the area, they discovered 10-12 more calling males from different wetlands. Before this year, the species was not formally documented at all from this particular county in southern Mississippi. Efforts to work with landowners in the area to preserve their habitats has begun. Despite the good news, no females, egg masses, or tadpoles have been found yet. They are not out of hot water yet, but efforts from passionate scientists in the region will hopefully improve the trajectory of these westernmost populations to make sure the species stays in Mississippi long to come.

Male Ornate Chorus Frog from southern Mississippi, 2023, © CJ Hillard

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