The plains leopard frog is medium-sized, with a light tan ground color and numerous rounded spots on the back. The spots can be brown or greenish brown and are not ringed with white. There is always a distinct white line along the upper jaw. The tympanum (rounded ear spot) has a white spot in the middle. There is often a dark spot on the snout, and the belly is white. The underside of legs and groin area is pale yellow. The ridge of skin along each side of the back is broken toward the hind end, with a small section at the rear raised toward the back. Call is a rapid series of guttural “chuck-chuck-chuck” sounds, with a pulse rate of 3 per second.
Similar species: Missouri’s two other leopard frogs and the pickerel frog all lack the distinctively broken and displaced skin ridges along the back.
Length (snout to vent): 2 to 3¾ inches.
Throughout most of Missouri, except the Ozarks.
Habitat and Conservation
Active from March to October, this species lives in grasslands, including former prairie regions and associated river floodplains, pastures, and marshes. It uses a variety of aquatic habitats, including water-filled ditches, farm ponds, river sloughs, small streams, temporary pools, and marshes. In summer, individuals may venture into grassy areas well away from water. In winter, they retreat into mud and dead leaves at the bottom of ponds and streams.
Plains leopard frogs eat a variety of insects and spiders.
Breeding is from mid-April to early June, and some years in autumn. Males gather at a marsh, pond, or temporary pool and begin calling after sunset. Females lay eggs in round or slightly oblong masses that are surrounded by a thin coating of clear, protective jelly and attached to submerged stems or branches in shallow water. Each mass can have 4,000–6,500 eggs, which hatch in 2–3 weeks. Tadpoles become froglets in midsummer or may overwinter and transform the next spring.
As predators, these amphibians help decrease populations of many insects that are pests to humans. Additionally, their strange, rhythmic calls add to the magic of a Missouri evening.
Frogs are predators that help keep populations of insects and other small animals in balance. They, and especially their eggs, tadpoles, and young froglets, become food for both aquatic and terrestrial predators. This species is known to fall prey to ribbonsnakes and gartersnakes.