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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Southern Leopard Frog - Lithobates sphenocephalus

Cope, 1886

(= Rana sphenocephala)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Southern Leopard Frog California Range Map
Introduced Range in California: Red


Alien Herps in California


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This is an alien species that has been introduced into California. It is not a native species.

I have no pictures yet of this species from California. All pictures are of frogs found outside California.

Southern Leopard Frog Southern Leopard Frog Southern Leopard Frog
  Adult, Bastrop County, Texas  
Southern Leopard Frog Southern Leopard Frog Southern Leopard Frog
Adult, Bastrop County, Texas Adult, Bastrop County, Texas
Southern Leopard Frog Southern Leopard Frog
Southern Leopard Frog
Adult, Baker County, Florida
© Dick Bartlett
Adult, Baker County, Florida
© Dick Bartlett
Adult, Virginia © 2000 John White
     
Eggs and Tadpoles
Southern Leopard Frog Eggs Southern Leopard Frog Tadpole  
Eggs, Bastrop County, Texas Transforming tadpole, Baker County, Florida © Dick Bartlett  
     
Habitat
  Southern Leopard Frog Habitat  
  Southern Leopard Frogs have been found in this wetland in Riverside County
 
     
Short Video
  Northern Leopard Frog  
  Southern Leopard Frogs in Virginia.  

More pictures of this frog and its natural habitat are available on our Texas Herps page.


Description
 
Size
Adults are 2 - 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (5.1 - 9 cm). Record 5 inches long (12.7 cm). (Conant and Collins, 1998)

Appearance
A medium-sized slender frog with a narrow head and long legs.
The tympanum has a light spot in the center.
Conspicuous dorsolateral ridges.
Color and Pattern
Brown or green with rounded light-bordered dark spots on the back and sides, and striping on the legs.
There is a light upper jaw line.
Young
Young have few or no spots.
Larvae (Tadpoles)
Tadpoles are brown or grey with small gold spots, creamy
below with a bronzy sheen and visible guts, and grow up to 3.5 in. in length (8.7 cm.)

Life History and Behavior
Activity
Mostly nocturnal.
Can be active all year long in the southern part of their native range, but they are dormant in the winter in their northern range, where they shelter in permanent bodies of water that do not freeze completely and that contain plenty of oxygen.
Frogs move away from water in summer, after breeding, using vegetation for shelter and shade, but in dry periods they stay in moist areas near springs, lakes, rivers and creeks.
Defense
To avoid predation, frogs dive into water, turning sharply underwater, before coming up in vegetation. Often when approached as they rest at the edge of a water source, they will escape inland. On land they leap quickly, with each leap in a different direction.
Territoriality
Not understood but unlikely.
Longevity
Not known.
Voice  (Listen)
A moderately loud short guttural trill.
Males make their advertisement call while floating on open water, from vegetation, or while sitting on logs or sticks. 
Males call at night and occasionally during the day, using paired vocal sacs found between the jaw and shoulders.
Diet and Feeding
Eats a wide variety of invertebrates, including crayfish.
Breeding
Reproduction is aquatic.
Fertilization is external, with the male grasping the back of the female and releasing sperm as the female lays her eggs.

The reproductive cycle is similar to that of most North American Frogs and Toads. Mature adults come into breeding condition and move to ponds or ditches where the males call to advertise their fitness to competing males and to females. Males and females pair up in amplexus in the water where the female lays her eggs as the male fertilizes them externally. The adults leave the water and the eggs hatch into tadpoles which feed in the water and eventually grow four legs, lose their tails and emerge onto land where they disperse into the surrounding territory.

In the native range of this frog, mating and egg-laying occurs from early Spring in the northern part of the range and in any month in the southern part of the range.
Eggs
Eggs are laid in still shallow water, usually attached to vegetation. Communal nesting has been documented.
Females lay 1,200 to 1,500 eggs, possibly as many as 5,000.
Eggs have been observed hatching in 4 - 5 days in Florida and in less than 2 weeks in Missouri.
Tadpoles and Young
Tadpoles metamorphose in 50 - 75 days.
This can be April to October across their native range.

Habitat
Inhabits many types of shallow, freshwater habitats, including temporary pools, and permanent waters such as ponds, lakes, irrigation canals, ditches and the edges of streams and rivers.

Range

Native Range


Along the east coast of North America from Long Island to Florida, west through Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and barely into Iowa, and the eastern parts of Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.



Range Introductions in California

1. In the early-1990s Michael Fuller discovered an introduced population of Southern leopard frogs in western Riverside Co, near the border of Orange Co. upstream of Prado Dam. The subspecies was not determined. These Frogs, previously recorded as Rana pipiens, were most likely first introduced at the Chino Gun Club in 1929 or 1930, probably as larvae that arrived with other imported Bullfrogs, fish, and crayfish from Louisiana. They spread throughout the Santa Ana river basin in eastern Orange and western Riverside counties, including locations from the Anaheim Hills, to Corona and the southwest corner of Irvine Lake. They are now common in the Prado Flood Contro Basin, in areas that are becoming urbanized, sharing their habitat with other introduced amphibians - Bullfrogs and African Clawed Frogs. (Jennings and Fuller, 2004)


2. In March, 2016, two female Southern Leopard Frogs were found in Madera Couny at the San Joaquin River just northwest of Fresno. They represent a presumed second established population of the species in California. (Shaun T. Root Herpetological Review 48(2), 2017)


Full Species Range Map
Notes on Taxonomy

In 2006, Frost et al divided North American frogs of the family Ranidae into two genera, Lithobates and Rana. Rana is still used in most existing references.

Two subspecies are recognized:
Lithobates sphenocephala sphenocephala
(Rana sphenocephalus sphenocephalus) - Florida Leopard Frog
and Lithobates sphenocephala utricularia (Rana sphenocephalus utricularius ) - Southern Leopard Frog
Frogs introduced into California are thought to be L. s. utricularia, but this is not certain.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Rana utricularia - Southern Leopard Frog (Conant & Collins 1998)
Rana pipiens sphenocephala - Southern Meadow Frog (Southern Leopard Frog, Spring Frog, Spotted Frog, Water Frog, Shad Frog) (Wright and Wright 1949)
Rana pipiens - Leopard Frog (Storer 1925)
Rana pipiens (Schreber 1782)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None known in their native range where they are ubiquitous and abundant in many areas.
In California, as is the case with any introduced species, they could cause problems for established native animals by outcompeting with them for resources, or by eating them or their young.
Taxonomy
Family Ranidae True Frogs Rafinesque, 1814
Genus Lithobates American Water Frogs Fitzinger, 1843
Species


sphenocephala Southern Leopard Frog Cope, 1886
Original Description
Rana sphenocephala - Cope, 1886 - Proc. Amer. Philos. Soc., Vol. 23, p. 517

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Lithobates - Greek - Litho = a stone, bates = one that walks or haunts
sphenocephala -
Greek - wedge-headed

Taken in part from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Frogs
Lithobates berlandieri
Lithobates pipiens
Lithobates catesbeianus
Lithobates yavapaiensis
Rana draytonii
Rana aurora
Rana boylii
Rana cascadae
Rana pretiosa
Rana muscosa


More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

Jennings, Mark R., and Michael M. Fuller. 2004. Origin and distribution of leopard frogs, Rana pipiens complex, in California. California Fish and Game 90(3):119-139.

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Robert Powell, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Elliott, Lang, Carl Gerhardt, and Carlos Davidson. Frogs and Toads of North America, a Comprehensive Guide to their Identification, Behavior, and Calls. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

Lannoo, Michael (Editor). Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, June 2005.

Storer, Tracy I. A Synopsis of the Amphibia of California. University of California Press Berkeley, California 1925.

Wright, Albert Hazen and Anna Wright. Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1949.

Behler, John L., & F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.


This frog is not included on the Special Animals List, meaning there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California according to the California Department of Fish and Game.


Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)
California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Bureau of Land Management
USDA Forest Service
IUCN
 

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