Southern Leopard Frog

Media
Photo of a southern leopard frog.
Scientific Name
Lithobates sphenocephalus (formerly Rana sphenocephala)
Family
Ranidae (true frogs) in the order Anura (frogs)
Description

The southern leopard frog is a medium-sized frog with rounded or oblong spots on the back. The two folds along the sides of the back are narrow, distinctly raised, yellow or tan, and run continuously to the groin. The head is long and the snout is pointed. The overall color is green, greenish brown, or light brown with some green on the back. Dark marks on the hind legs are broken bars or elongated spots. There is usually no dark spot on the snout. A white line is present along the upper lip. The center of the tympanum usually has a distinct white spot. Call is a series of abrupt, chucklelike quacking sounds, repeated at a rate of 12 pulses per second. Tadpoles are 1¾–2¼ inches long, olive-gray, with faint gray markings on body and tail.

Similar species: The southern leopard frog differs from our other leopard frogs and the pickerel frog by its narrow, continuous dorsolateral fold, pointed snout, usual lack of a snout spot, lack of yellow along the groin and inner thighs, and absence of white rings around the spots on the back.

Size

Length (snout to vent): 2–3 inches.

Where To Find
Southern Leopard Frog Distribution Map

Throughout most of Missouri except for the northwestern corner of the state.

Utilizes a wide variety of aquatic habitats, including creeks, rivers, sloughs, swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes, and flooded ditches. When near an aquatic habitat, leopard frogs sit at the water’s edge but quickly enter the water with a powerful jump if alarmed. In summer, they may venture far from water into pastures, meadows, or wooded areas, where they hunt for insects.

Southern leopard frogs eat a variety of insects and other invertebrates.

Common. In a number of Missouri communities, it occupies the same range as the plains leopard frog, and the two are known to hybridize.

Life Cycle

In our state, normally active between late February and mid-October and breeds from mid-March to early May. Ponds, sloughs, and flooded ditches are used as breeding sites. Several thousand eggs are normally laid in several clumps or masses, which are loosely attached to submerged sticks or stems. Eggs hatch within 2 weeks, and tadpoles metamorphose from mid-June to late July. Sometimes this species breeds during the autumn and the tadpoles overwinter in the breeding wetland.

Missouri’s 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.

Preys on a variety of insects and spiders and is in turn preyed upon by ribbonsnakes, gartersnakes, and other predators. The eggs and tadpoles become food for many wetland predators.

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Similar Species

Where to See Species

Wa-Sha-She Prairie was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1973 with funds from Miss Katherine Ordway. The area is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
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.