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What is a Northern Leopard Frog?

By Angie Bates
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The Northern Leopard Frog is a type of amphibian found in most areas of North America. In the US, this frog was most commonly used for dissection in HS biology classes. The scientific name for the northern leopard frog is Rana pipiens.

Slender frogs, northern leopards are shades of green or brown with lightly bordered, leopard-like dark spots. These frogs measure 3–5 inches (7.6–12.7 cm) and often have thin dual golden bands running down their backs. There are several color-mutations for this species, such as a lack of spots. These spotless frogs are called Burnsi leopard frogs.

Like all frogs, the northern leopard frog breathes primarily through its skin, so its skin must be kept damp at all times. For this reason, their habitats always include water and are often found in wetlands or in open fields near a water source. In the summer, however, the frogs may sometimes be found 1–2 miles (1.6–3.2 km) from water. During colder months, the frogs will bury themselves in mud and hibernate at the bottom of lakes or other water bodies. They also may bury themselves in underwater mud temporarily at any time if they feel threatened.

Mostly nocturnal, northern leopards tend to sit and wait for their prey. When the prey moves close, the frog will leap on it. Northern leopard frogs are carnivorous and are not picky eaters. They will eat many types of insects, garter snakes, small birds, and other frogs, including their own species.

Northern leopard frogs start to mate when they are two or three years old. Mating starts in April with the males calling to attract the females. Females lay up to 6,000 eggs in water, which adhere to the nearby vegetation. Young frogs leave the water by early August.

Prior to the 1960s, the northern leopard frog was the most widespread species of frog in North America. Since the 60s, their populations have steadily declined, but have not yet reached the status of endangered. They are still found in 26 US States and most regions of Canada. The decline is most likely due ecological factors.

In addition to a decline in population, an increase in malformed frogs was discovered in the 1990s. This finding was made public first in Minnesota, where the percentage of malformed northern leopards was 6.5%. Scientists suspected a combination of causes, including parasites, pesticides and other chemicals, and even possibly increased ultraviolet (UV) light. Funding was cut for scientific research into this phenomenon in 2001.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Northern Leopard Frog?

The Northern Leopard Frog is an amphibian known for its distinctive dark spots, which resemble those of a leopard, set against a green or brown background. It's a species found across parts of Canada and the United States, thriving in moist environments like wetlands, ponds, and marshes. These frogs are important indicators of environmental health and are prey for various wildlife, contributing to their ecosystem's biodiversity.

What do Northern Leopard Frogs eat?

Northern Leopard Frogs are opportunistic feeders, primarily consuming insects such as beetles, ants, and flies. They also eat spiders, snails, and even smaller frogs. Their diet plays a crucial role in controlling insect populations, making them valuable for maintaining ecological balance. They use their long, sticky tongues to snatch prey quickly and efficiently.

How do Northern Leopard Frogs reproduce?

Reproduction in Northern Leopard Frogs typically occurs in the spring, when they gather in large numbers in aquatic environments. Males call to attract females, and breeding takes place in the water. Females lay egg masses that can contain up to several thousand eggs, which hatch into tadpoles before undergoing metamorphosis into adult frogs, a process that underscores their role in aquatic ecosystems.

Are Northern Leopard Frogs endangered?

While not globally endangered, Northern Leopard Frog populations have declined in certain areas due to habitat loss, pollution, disease, and climate change. Conservation efforts are in place to protect their habitats and monitor populations. According to the IUCN Red List, they are currently classified as "Least Concern," but local conservation statuses may vary, highlighting the need for ongoing environmental stewardship.

What is the lifespan of a Northern Leopard Frog?

In the wild, Northern Leopard Frogs can live for up to 9 years, although many do not reach this age due to predation and environmental pressures. In captivity, with proper care, they may live longer. Their longevity is a testament to their adaptability and resilience, although it also makes them sensitive to changes in their environment.

How can I identify a Northern Leopard Frog?

To identify a Northern Leopard Frog, look for its distinctive round, dark spots with light borders on its back, legs, and sides. They typically have a light-colored ridge running along each side of their back. Their belly is usually a lighter color, and they have webbed hind feet, which aid in swimming. Adult frogs range from 2 to 4.5 inches in length, with males being slightly smaller than females.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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