Southern Leopard Frog (Rana sphenocephala)
- The southern leopard frog grows to a length of 2 to 3.5 inches (about 5 to 9 cm). Its color varies from tan to several shades of brown to green. The dorsum (back) is usually covered with irregular dark brown spots between distinct light colored areas. Large dark spots on its legs may create the effect of bands. Other distinguishing characteristics include a light line along its upper jaw, light spot on its tympanum (ear), and long hind legs and toes. It is slender, with a narrow, pointed head. Males are smaller than females, but with enlarged forearms and thumbs and paired vocal sacs that look like balloons when inflated.
- Life History
Southern leopard frogs are very adaptable and are comfortable in many habitats - they just need cover and moisture. These frogs are great jumpers, traveling high and far in just a few jumps. They consume insects and small invertebrates. Predators such as fish, raccoons, skunks and aquatic snakes feed on the leopard frog. It reaches sexual maturity in the first spring after hatching. In Texas, breeding takes place year round depending on temperature and moisture. Several hundred eggs are laid in a cluster just below the water's surface. Tadpoles hatch in about seven to ten days. Newly hatched tadpoles are only about 20 to 25 mm long. They grow to 65 to 70 mm before metamorphosing into frogs, generally between 60 to 90 days. Southern leopard frogs have a lifespan of 3 years.
Southern leopard frogs elude predators by jumping into nearby water and swimming underwater for some distance, while the predator continues looking near the point of entry into the water. They are primarily nocturnal, hiding during the day in vegetation at the water's edge. During wet months, a leopard frog may wander some distance from water, but stays in moist vegetation. They will sometimes wander to colonize.
The mating call is a series of abrupt, deep croaks, creating a guttural trill. The trill rate may be as many as 13 per second. Males call from shore or while floating in shallow water. A leopard frog's mottled coloration helps camouflage it. Southern leopard frogs are often used for teaching dissecting in science classes.
- Shallow freshwater areas are preferred habitat for the southern leopard frog, but they may be seen some distance from water if there is enough vegetation and moisture to provide protection. Southern leopard frogs are also able to live in brackish marshes along the coast.
- Southern leopard frogs range throughout the eastern United States, from New Jersey east as far as Nebraska and Oklahoma and south into the eastern third of Texas.
- The name of the genus comes from the Latin rana (frog). The species name combines the Greek words sphenos (wedgeshaped) and kephale (head) to describe its triangular head. The mating calls of southern leopard frogs are a familiar background sound to many Texans living near ponds, streams and wetlands. To obtain a tape of the calls of frogs and toads of Texas, contact Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Wildlife Diversity Branch, 512-912-7011.