The northern crawfish frog is a large frog with a light ground color and numerous, closely set dark spots. The head is disproportionately large. A prominent fold extends along each side of the back from the eye to the thigh. Ground color varies from light tan to light gray; the dark spots may be dark brown, gray or nearly black and are sometimes edged in white. A fine network or spotting of dark pigment is usually present between the dark spots. The belly is white. The call is a deep, loud, snoring “gwwaaa.” A group of calling males sounds like pigs at feeding time.
Species of Conservation Concern
Lithobates areolatus circulosus
Ranidae (true frogs) in the order Anura (frogs)
Length (snout to vent): 3–4 inches.
Where To Find
The rolling hills, prairies, and meadows of southwestern, extreme western, north-central, and eastern Missouri.
Restricted to native prairie or former prairie areas in our state. Populations occur in or near low-lying hayfields, native grass pastures, prairies, and occasionally in river floodplains. They usually use crawfish burrows for retreats. Although nearly all the native prairies of the state have undergone intensive cultivation, this species has persisted. The Missouri Department of Conservation is providing appropriate pools in prairie habitats for crawfish frog breeding sites.
Northern crawfish frogs eat a variety of invertebrates, including insects, spiders, and small crayfish.
Vulnerable in Missouri due to loss of habitat. A Species of Conservation Concern. It persists even though its habitat has been extremely diminished. It is critical for this species that we protect, properly manage, and reestablish prairies. This species needs small, fishless ponds in order to breed. Additionally, it is important to protect our water table: If the groundwater sinks too far, burrowing crayfish may be eliminated, reducing the available burrows for crawfish frogs.
In our state, they are usually active from March to October and breed from late February through April. Males gather in semipermanent pools and fishless ponds to call. The female can lay up to 7,000 eggs, grouped in large clumps 5–6 inches across. These are deposited on submerged plant stems or branches in shallow water, and they hatch in 7–10 days. Tadpoles transform to froglets from mid-May to mid-June.
This species grows more valuable as our prairies disappear. The prairie environment is a great part of the American story, and the chorus of these frogs, along with the rest of the natural prairie, can evoke a profound sense of what our American forebears experienced as they moved west.
This species is an important component of the rich and diverse prairie ecosystems of our state. It helps check insect populations, and it depends a great deal on prairie-dwelling crayfish for food as well as for shelter. Other species, including mammals and birds, feed on crawfish frogs.
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About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.