Pickerel Frog

Lithobates palustris (formerly Rana palustris)


Image of a pickerel frog
MDC Staff

Ranidae (true frogs) in the order Anura (frogs)


The pickerel frog is a medium-sized tan frog 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. The general color is gray, tan, or brown. A white line runs along the upper lip. The spots on the back are reddish brown, dark brown, or black. There are prominent dark bars on the hind legs. The underside of the legs and groin area are washed with yellow, orange yellow, or pinkish yellow. The belly is white. Call is a low-pitched, descending snore lasting for several seconds.

Similar species: Missouri’s three species of leopard frogs lack the pickerel frog's combination of having wide, unbroken skin folds along the back; two distinct rows of square or rectangular spots; and yellow or orange-yellow beneath the legs and groin area.


Length (snout to vent): 1¾ to 3 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Commonly associated with springs, cold streams, and cool, shaded woodland ponds. Retreats to wet caves to escape heat in summer and cold in winter. Look for it along Ozark streams under rocks along the water’s edge. Pickerel frogs also live along streams in grassy areas, pastures, and near farm ponds, along shaded ravines in forests, and under rocks on glades in the spring. In eastern Missouri along the Mississippi River, this species occurs near springs and creeks that flow from limestone bluffs.


Pickerel frogs eat a variety of insects and spiders.

Pickerel Frog Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Southern half and the eastern edge of the state; absent from the northwestern third.

Life cycle

Breeding occurs March through May, in fishless woodland ponds, sloughs, and water-filled ditches. Females lay from 700 to 2,900 eggs in shallow water in a globular mass attached to a submerged stick or stem. The tadpoles hatch in 10 days or more, and they transform into froglets around mid-July. Timing varies with temperature.

Human connections

Frogs help control populations of sometimes-troublesome insects. Because they are sensitive to pollutants, they are considered indicator species whose health and numbers can be a way to gauge the health of their ecosystem.

Ecosystem connections

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 ranging from water bugs to fish to grackles to raccoons.