The pickerel frog is medium-sized, with square or rectangular spots in two parallel rows down the back. There is a wide ridge of skin along each side of the back. It is absent from the northwestern third of Missouri.
A medium-sized spotted frog, the plains leopard frog is found in pastures, prairies, and marshes. The ridge of skin along each side of the back is broken, and the small posterior section is raised toward the back. It is not present in the Ozarks.
Frogs are predators that help keep populations of insects and other small animals in balance. They, and especially their eggs, tadpoles, and young froglets, become food for both aquatic and terrestrial predators. Plains leopard frogs are known to fall prey to ribbonsnakes and gartersnakes.
The plains leopard frog is found throughout most of Missouri, except for the Ozarks. It uses a variety of aquatic habitats, including water-filled ditches, farm ponds, river sloughs, small streams, temporary pools, and marshes.
The plains leopard frog can be distinguished from Missouri’s two other leopard frogs and the pickerel frog by its distinctively broken and displaced whitish skin ridge along each side of the back, visible here just above the hind leg. Note also the fairly circular and uniform spots on the back, which lack a whitish outline, and the blunt snout and the white line along the upper jaw.
Some of the identifying characteristics visible in this photo of a plains leopard frog are the wide head and blunt nose, white stripe along the jaw, and the white dot in the middle of the tympanum (the round, flat external eardrum).
As predators, plains leopard frogs and other frogs help decrease populations of many insects that are pests to humans. Also, their calls — a rapid series of guttural “chuck-chuck-chuck” sounds — add to the magic of a Missouri evening.
The attractively spotted southern leopard frog is an excellent jumper and quickly leaps into water when startled. The males’ chuckling calls entertain us even as they function to attract females for breeding. Found statewide except for the northwestern corner.
Anglers sometimes use southern leopard frogs as live bait (daily limits apply, however; check current fishing regulations to make sure you’re using them legally). Many Missourians enjoy observing them as they plop into the water and sing their courting calls.
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