Northern Leopard Frog

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Other common names: Meadow Frog, Leopard Frog

Scientific name: Rana (Lithobates) pipiens

The Basics:
The Northern Leopard frog, conspicuous in both coloration and habits, is often collected by amphibian enthusiasts. However, unless properly housed, it makes a high strung captive, and breeding records are few. But patient keepers with a bit of experience find it to be a most attractive, interesting pet.

The huge range extends from across most of southern Canada south through the USA to West Virginia and northern California. Related and superficially-similar species (12-17, depending upon the authority) can be found throughout the rest of the USA and into Central America. Amazingly, a new species, R. kauffeldi, was discovered in 2014 – in NYC!

The Northern Leopard Frog is found along permanent, slow-moving water bodies that support dense emergent vegetation, such as swamps, lakes, marshes, canals and streams. Golf course and farm ponds are also colonized. It also ranges quite far from water when foraging, and may then be found in moist meadows, agricultural land, and open forests.

Appearance / Health:
The Northern Leopard Frog is slender in build, and ranges from 2 to 4.5 inches in snout-vent length. They are highly variable in color, being green or various shades of brown on the upper body and white to cream on the ventral surface. The back is marked numerous round, pale-edged spots of varying sizes.

Well-cared-for pets may live to 8+ years of age. Metabolic bone disease is seen in individuals that are fed a calcium-poor diet. “Red leg” and other bacterial and fungal infections resulting from poor water quality and high ammonia levels are perhaps the most common cause of death in captive animals.

Behavior / Temperament:
Northern Leopard Frogs, if obtained as tadpoles or youngsters, adjust well to captivity and become quite bold, readily feeding from tongs by day or night. Wild-caught adults and those kept in cramped quarters remain high strung and often succumb to stress-related diseases or injuries.

As is true for all amphibians, Northern Leopard Frogs should be handled only when necessary, and then with wet hands so that the skin’s protective mucus is not removed. Amphibian skin secretions may cause irritations when transferred to their owner’s wounds, eyes, or the mouth.

Despite their size, Northern Leopard Frogs rarely fare well in small enclosures. An adult requires a 20 gallon aquarium; a pair may be kept in a 30-40 gallon tank. Water should be of a depth that allows the frog to submerge completely and to float on the surface with the legs extended below. Floating live or plastic plants should cover the surface to provide security. Mopani wood, cork bark or turtle ramps serve well as resting sites. Substrate should not be used on land areas, as anything and everything in the vicinity of food will be swallowed. The tank’s bottom should be bare as well.

Porous skins allow frogs and toads to absorb harmful chemicals from the water and substrate . A canister or submersible filter and weekly partial water changes are essential in maintaining long-term health.

Ammonia from waste products, uneaten food, and decaying plants is extremely lethal; an aquarium test kit should be used to monitor its levels. Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used in aquariums. Liquid preparations that work instantly are available at pet stores.

Northern Leopard Frogs do well at normal room temperatures. They are active from 60-90+ F, but sustained temperatures above 80 F may be stressful if cool areas are not available, and may also increase the likelihood of bacterial/fungal attack.

They do not require Ultra-Violet B light, but anecdotal evidence indicates that low levels of UVB, along with UVA, may be of some benefit.

Wild Northern Leopard Frogs take a wide range of prey, including insects of all kinds, spiders, small fish, crayfish, smaller frogs, and salamanders.

A highly-varied diet rich in calcium is essential for pets. Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not adequate. Minnows and other small fishes are the best calcium sources. Goldfish should be used sparingly, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other species.

Earthworms serve well as a basis of the diet. Roaches, crickets, locusts, butter worms, sow bugs and other commercially-available species should be offered on a regular basis. Insects should themselves be fed a nutritious diet for 1-3 days before being offered to your pets.

Food (other than fish) should be powdered with a Calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement. A multiple vitamin/mineral supplement may be used 2-3 times weekly.

Captive reproduction is not common except in outdoor ponds. Breeding may be stimulated by normal fluctuations in room temperature, but a cooling off period of 4-6 weeks at 50 F (after a 7 day fast) will yield more consistent results. A commercial rain-system or rain chamber, or increased misting, is useful in stimulating breeding behavior.

Males in breeding condition may be distinguished from females by their brown, thickened thumbs (used to grasp females during amplexus) and the loose skin, indicating the vocal sack, on the throat. Males call with an odd assortment of grunts and “snores”. Gravid females produce 500-6,000+ eggs, which are attached to aquatic plants. Northern Leopard Frog tadpoles may be reared on a diet of fish food flakes, commercial tadpole pellets, algae tablets, and par-boiled kale. Metamorphosis occurs in 6 weeks – 2 months, depending upon temperature and diet.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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