Southern Leopard Frog

Lithobates sphenocephalus (formerly Rana sphenocephala)

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Photo of a southern leopard frog.
The two lines down the back of a southern leopard frog are yellow or tan and are not broken.
Jim Rathert
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.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog viewed from above.
Southern Leopard Frog
There is usually some green on the back of a southern leopard frog.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog viewed from side.
Southern Leopard Frog
The southern leopard frog is common through most of Missouri except for the northwestern corner.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog, side view of head.
Southern Leopard Frog
The head of the southern leopard frog is long and the snout is pointed. There is usually no dark spot on the snout.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog on a pond bank.
Southern Leopard Frog
Southern leopard frogs sit at the water’s edge but quickly jump into the water if alarmed.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog on grass.
Southern Leopard Frog
Anglers sometimes use southern leopard frogs as live bait. Many others enjoy these frogs as they plop into the water.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog at water's edge.
Southern Leopard Frog
Male southern leopard frogs call with a series of abrupt, chucklelike quacking sounds.

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Photo of a southern leopard frog with water springtails.
Southern Leopard Frog and Water Springtails
There are many animals in aquatic ecosystems, including southern leopard frogs and water springtails.

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Egg mass attached to submerged stick
Southern Leopard Frog Eggs
Southern leopard frogs breed from mid-March to early May. They will lay egg masses that are loosely attached to stems or sticks in flooded habitats.

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Video of a southern leopard frog in the wild.
Habitat and conservation

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.

Foods

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

image of Southern Leopard Frog Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

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

Status

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.

Human connections

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.

Ecosystem connections

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.