Photo credits: Aubrey M. Heupel
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Lithobates heckscheri (Wright)
STATUS: Peripheral and rare in southern portion of Southern Pine Plains and Hills, and potentially in Dougherty Plain of southernmost tier of counties. Common in Florida and Georgia. Documented in Alabama from four old records. HIGHEST CONSERVATION CONCERN.
OTHER NAMES: River-swamp Frog, Greenback, Heckscher’s Frog, Wright’s Bullfrog, Alligator Frog (Wright and Wright 1949).
DESCRIPTION: A large (8-14 cm [3.1-5.5 in.] snout-vent length) dark brown to grayish olive frog (Mount 1975). Margins of upper and lower lips black with conspicuous white spots, especially on lower lip. Hind feet have extensive webbing; dorsolateral ridges absent (Wright 1924). Throat, belly, and underside of rear legs primarily gray or black, and mottled with white markings, especially toward rear legs, which distinguishes it from the bullfrog and pig frog whose undersides are mostly pure white or white with dark markings (Mount 1975). Skin texture rougher than that of the bullfrog and pig frog (Mount 1975). Small tadpoles black, with a gold or white transverse band on body (Wright 1924). Mature tadpole quite large (up to 16 cm [6.3 in.]) and has perhaps the most striking coloration of any southeastern ranid frog (Wright 1924, Mount 1975). Eye brick red and body black, dark gray, or dark greenish olive and evenly covered with fine gold or greenish-yellow flecks (Wright 1924). Upper portion of tail musculature very dark, but lighter below. Most distinctive feature of tadpole is black edge around entire tail fin, whereas tail fin is almost transparent (Wright 1924). Among North American ranid frogs, the river frog is part of the catesbeiana group that also includes the bullfrog and the pig, green, mink, carpenter, and bog frogs. Most recent phylogeny using rDNA restriction sites indicates the river and pig frogs are sister taxa and are most closely related to the carpenter frog (Hillis and Davis 1986).
DISTRIBUTION: Restricted to lower Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States from the Lumber and Cape Fear Rivers in North Carolina, southward through southern Georgia to north-central Florida, and westward across the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama into extreme southern Mississippi (Simmons and Hardy 1959, Mount 1975). In Alabama, known from only six localities in the extreme southern portion of the lower Coastal Plain in Mobile County (Franklin Creek), Baldwin County (Perdido and Styx Rivers), Escambia County (vicinity of Cedar Creek), and Henry County (Choctawhatchee River East Fork and Abbie Creek) (Mount 1975; K. Krysko, pers. comm.).
HABITAT: Along rivers and smaller streams and in river floodplains including floodplain swamps and cut-off overflow pools (Wright 1924, Carr 1940). Also found in cypress-bordered lakes, forested swamps, bayheads, beaver impoundments, and borrow pits (Mount 1975). Primary requirement appears to be permanent water that is necessary for successful reproduction (i.e., metamorphosis). Primary vegetative associations appear to be bald cypress, tupelo-gum, titi, and bay (Mount 1975).
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Little published data. In northern
BASIS FOR STATUS CLASSIFICATION: Distribution in
Author: Matthew J. Aresco