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Northern Leopard Frog Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NameNorthern Leopard Frog, grass frog, meadow frog
Scientific NameLithobates pipiens
Captive Lifespan8 to 12 years
Size3 – 5 inches
Mass0.5 – 2.8 ounces
HabitatLakes, streams, marshes, ponds, meadows, pastures, fields
Country of OriginUnited States of America, Canada

Physical Description

Northern Leopard frogs are easy to distinguish because of the unique, greenish-brown spots covering the legs, as well as the back zone. Just like the name of these amphibians suggests, the spots that come in irregular shapes somewhat resemble the distinct leopard coloration pattern.

With most of the Northern Leopard frogs, the undersides display shades of a pearly white.

These charming amphibians are known as a medium to large frogs. Adults typically reach between 3 to 5 inches in length, while their weight averages between ½ and 2.8 ounces.

Adult females are larger than males.

Types

The variety of patterns and colors of Northern Leopard frogs is truly impressive.

Apart from the typical coloration, there are various color morphs, such as the burnsi color morph that lacks the traditional spots or solely has these spots in the legs zone, and not in the back zone.

Nonetheless, Albino northern leopard frogs can also occur in the wild and in captivity alike. The background color of Northern leopard frogs is usually green and brown, but the spots can widely vary in coloration.

Experts believe that the range of these amphibians is also a factor when it comes to coloration. For instance, the Northern Leopard frogs’ populations on the East Coast tend to be predominantly green.

Apart from Northern leopard frogs, Southern Leopard frogs do also exist.

Southern leopards are less commonly preferred as pets when compared to Northern Leopards, and this has something to do with the Southern leopards’ rather hyperactive temper. Furthermore, when kept in captivity, Southern Leopard frogs are more prone to hiding.

The southern leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephala) is known to inhabit the southeastern United States.

Southern leopard frogs reach a similar size as Northern leopards, and they share quite similar physical features. However, Southern leopards have a light, small dot at the very center of the eardrum, while Northern leopards lack this distinct trait. Also, the spots of southern leopards are smaller, and their heads are more pointed.

Despite the small differences in their temper, both Southern, as well as Northern leopard frogs can be kept together outdoors without any problems.

Habitat & Lifespan

From Kentucky in the East, Arizona in the West, and south into New Mexico, Northern leopards are native inhabitants of the northern United States, as well as southern Canada. They can be found near various water sources, such as ponds, lakes, streams, and marshes.

However, during the summer season, Northern leopards do often venture away from the water sources where they can be typically found, furthering into pastures, meadows, and fields.

In the wild, Northern leopard frogs usually live for 2 to 4 years, while those kept in captivity can easily reach 8 – 12 years of age. The significant difference in the average lifespan of captive vs. wild Northern leopard frogs are mostly based on the fact that these amphibians have a lot of natural predators, and they are also vulnerable to dangers caused by human activity.

Behavior

Being naturally slender and sleek, Northern leopard frogs spend most of their time peacefully sitting in the tall grasses. From this perfect spot, northern leopards are on the watch out for tasty crickets, patiently waiting for the crickets to pass by as to snack on them. Katydid and grasshoppers climbing up the tall grasses are also a favorite food for the northern leopards.

On rainy nights, Northern leopard frogs usually wander their habitat in search of warms or other smaller frogs. It is not uncommon for a fresh hatch of toads to attract hundreds of northern leopards, among other animals, to the welcoming, festive feeding site.

As Northern leopards do not produce potent enough, offensive skin secretions, they are easy prey for numerous animal species in the wild, including snakes, foxes, birds, raccoons, other frogs, and nonetheless, humans.

Northern leopards are a semi-terrestrial. This means that they live both in water and on land. For the majority of their time, these amphibians prefer field and meadow habitats that contain lakes, ponds, or rivers. However, they are also known to venture away from the water sources in order to forage.

During the hot summer months, adult Northern Leopard frogs maintain habitat ranges that average up to 600 sq. meters. Whenever they are to sense a threat, these frogs hide below water.

In general, northern leopards are considered to be quite timid creatures. 

With the help of their powerful hind legs, northern leopards have earned a solid reputation as excellent jumpers. They can jump up to 3 feet without any issues. Domesticated northern leopards are less likely to jump; however, in the case they are to feel endangered; they will not hesitate to use their mighty jumping skills.

Housing

  1. Northern leopard frogs can be successfully raised in captivity both indoors and outdoors, as they can thrive in a variety of aquatic habitats, such as still or slow-moving water sources, temporary or permanent pools, wetlands, and beaver ponds.
  2. For human-constructed types of habitats, borrow pits, and earthen stock tanks can do an excellent job for housing these amazing amphibians.
  3. Many northern leopard enthusiasts opt for constructing a sturdy “froggatarium” in their backyards. However, for taking care of these amphibians indoors, a suitable aquarium is needed.
  4. 30-gallon aquariums are appropriately sized for housing several northern leopard frogs. For those who intend to take care of a single northern leopard frog, a 10-gallon tank will be sufficient enough.
  5. As a rule of thumb, floor space is more important than height because northern leopard frogs are semiaquatic, meaning that they do need plenty of land area to feel comfortable.
  6. For captive northern leopards, your best bet is to provide a half-water, half-land tank.
  7. The land areas can be separated from the water body within the enclosure using Plexiglas, which needs to be placed across the aquarium. Next, it must be sealed with high-quality, silicone, aquarium-grade sealant. A piece of plastic can also be utilized for the same purpose as Plexiglas.

Substrate

  1. As a rule of thumb, the substrate for housing northern leopards must allow for these amphibians to burrow.
  2. The aquarium should be lined with a bed of large gravel. Natural river pebbles will do a brilliant job, whether these are to be obtained from a zoo shop or gathered in the wild.
  3. Mind that small gravel can pose health threats’ to these frogs well-being as they can accidentally swallow the tiny particles during their feeding frenzy. Furthermore, only smooth gravel must be utilized in order to avoid possible skin injuries and/or abrasions from occurring.
  4. Natural, organic soil that has not been treated with any synthetic chemicals is a wonderful substrate for northern leopards. A combination of peat moss and soil can work excellent, too.
  5. Soil or the combination of peat moss and soil needs to be covered with sphagnum moss and reptile bark.
  6. Place a dense piece of wood, such as, for instance, driftwood, in such a manner as to allow for the piece of wood to be partly on the land and partly in the water. By doing so, you will provide your northern leopard frog with a suitable spot allowing a smooth transition from land to water and vice versa. Nonetheless, this type of setup will provide the frog with the much-needed basking spot.
  7. Apart from opting for a dense piece of wood in order to create a transition spot, you can also slope gravel in the aquatic side, thus, providing another suitable form of a ramp-out-of-water spot.
  8. As northern leopard frogs are burrowing creatures, the depth of the soil must be a minimum of 2-3 inches on the terrestrial side.
  9. For basking, hiding spots, and climbing alike, live and artificial plants, as well as driftwood, will serve perfectly.

Temperature & Lighting

  1. As a rule of thumb, Northern leopard frogs are known to be relatively hardy creatures when it comes to the rather broad range of temperatures they can handle. However, for best results, the tank should be kept at room temperature, averaging between 20 – 24 degrees Celsius (respectively, between 68 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. At night, temperatures should be dropped to about 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit), although this is to be accepted as a good idea rather than a MUST.
  3. UVA/UVB light is needed for northern leopard frogs raised indoors, as well as for those raised outdoors, in the case the climate in the keeper’s area of residence lacks an abundance of sunny hours.
  4. Using UVA/UVB light will assist owners in providing the full spectrum of invisible rays needed to allow northern leopards to properly metabolize calcium.
  5. Many northern frog caregivers do never really get to supply their amphibians with additional UVA/UVB light, and they commonly do not face any serious issues because of doing so. It is good to remember, though, that utilizing UVA/UVB light is more likely to be beneficial rather than harmful to the frog, so it can be definitely worth giving it a try.
  6. When using UVA/UVB lights, owners must ensure that the frog will not be able to jump onto the lamp as this can lead to serious health issues. A secure mesh screen lid will do a great job on that note.
  7. The frog’s enclosure should not be made too bright. If it is brighter than needed, northern leopards tend to hideaway.
  8. Suitable lighting setup can be accomplished by placing a compatible reflector on the mesh screen cover, along with a 40-watt light bulb for housing several northern leopard frogs within a 30-gallon tank. For housing a single frog, a 15-watt light bulb should work great.
  9. The light bulbs will not only serve the purpose of assisting in the proper metabolizing of calcium but will also give the frogs a bit of cozy heat. Plus, northern leopards are inclined to leaning towards the light, so they will be easier to spot and admire.
  10. Place a small slab of slate right under the light. This will give northern leopard frogs the opportunity to sit on a smooth, comfy surface whenever they feel like doing so.
  11. Northern leopard frogs are true basking aficionados. They typically spend quite some of their time basking, especially after a meal. If you notice, though, that your northern leopard is to spend all of the time baskings, then this is a clear sign the amphibian isn’t warm enough. In such cases, you can try switching from a 15-watt bulb to a 30-watt bulb, or respectively, from a 40-watt-bulb to a 60-watt bulb.

Diet

Tadpoles eat rotting vegetable matter and algae. Adult northern leopard frogs are opportunistic predators. They will eat literally anything that can fit into their mouths, even other frogs, as long as these are small enough to be snacked on.

Common prey on the northern leopard’s menu includes slugs and snails, beetles, crickets, ants, leafhoppers, small snakes, and small birds.

The key to a proper diet for captive Northern leopard frogs is variety. For instance, crickets can make up for the major part of these amphibians’ diet. However, it is essential that crickets are to be supplemented with a good variety of other worms and insects.

Eating Habits

Northern leopard frogs are well-known for sitting and patiently waiting for their prey to come closer. As soon as the target is located within a suitable range, northern leopards are to leap and then snatch the victim up, using their sticky, long tongues.

For captive Northern leopard frogs, a good starting point when it comes to feeding is to offer a total of three to four crickets daily.

However, it is best to feed mature frogs every other day, since overfeeding tends to be a bigger problem than possibly underfeeding them. Keep a close eye on the frog’s body shape, and you will be easily able to tell whether it is under- or overfed if needed.

Once weekly, crickets should be dusted with calcium powder.

Sleeping Habits

Northern leopards are primarily nocturnal creatures. However, they can be commonly active during the day, too.

Naturally, Northern Leopard frogs are wired to hibernate during the winter season. At this point, they may stop eating and become less active in general for a period of about three months.

Keepers have two options: they can either let the frogs hibernate by mimicking the conditions in their natural environment, or they can keep the amphibians going right through the cold winter months without ever switching into hibernation mode.

Hibernation Tips

In order to let the frogs hibernate, the temperature in the tank should be lowered and maintained within consistently low rates between 37 – 39 degrees Fahrenheit. The frogs will then need to be re-awakened as soon as the ground is thawed, which typically happens in April.

For northern leopard frogs’ keepers who happen to live within the same range as these amphibians do, it is perfectly fine to release them close to where you got them from in September. Then, you can simply start anew at the beginning of the spring season.

For caregivers who live in the Northern parts of America, or in any other regions with similar climate conditions, northern leopards can be allowed to hibernate outdoors. Mind that the water needs to be a minimum of a couple of feet deep.

Preparation for outdoor hibernation should start in October, with owners placing waterlogged branches at the bottom of the water body, alongside dead leaves, and several smooth rocks. Hopefully, when the ice and snow are to leave in late winter, the amphibians will have survived and will be re-awakened.

For hibernating the frogs indoors, owners need to utilize a large plastic container filled with 2-3 inches of very moist, loose, organic soil, topped with dead leaves almost full-way to the top.

Next, the container can be placed in a refrigerator to allow the water to chill well. Make sure to lower down the temperatures to allow the frogs to get chilled prior to placing them in the chilled container.

It is imperative to make a few holes in the container’s lid. The hibernating frogs must be checked every month or so. For this purpose, you want to dig into the leaves, investigating whether the amphibians appear to be well-moist and healthy.

As Northern leopard frogs will absorb water as they sleep, additionally sprinkling with clean water every once in a while might be necessary.

Important Notes:

  1. For northern leopard frogs raised indoors, hibernation should be best approached as a last resort option. Without previous experience on that matter, hibernating the frogs can result in thousands of tadpoles that might be quite difficult to handle, and nonetheless, the northern leopard pets can also die.
  2. Do never take a warm, actively-feeding, healthy northern leopard frog, just to plunge it straight into hibernation mode. This will be 100% sure of death. Prior to entering hibernation, these amphibians must be slowed down very gradually, typically within the course of about 2 – 4 weeks. Then again, it is best NOT to hibernate these frogs in the lack of sufficient experience and/or unless you are ready to face the possible consequences.

No Hibernation Tips

When kept indoors, northern leopard frogs can do pretty well without hibernation, as long as the associated costs related to higher electricity bills are not an issue for caregivers. A heat lamp will serve as artificial sunshine that will make the amphibians happily go on with their normal lifestyle, without any need to hibernate.

Water

Northern leopard frogs must be provided with constant access to a water body that is large enough for these amphibians to fully submerge their bodies.

As the water container from which the northern leopards drink water whenever thirsty also serves the purpose of a form of a “bathroom,” cleaning is a fairly easy task. Owners simply need to ensure that the water container is placed in such a way as to be effortless to be lifted out so that the water can be changed regularly, and then placed back without much of a fuss.

Water should be kept fresh and clean, as stagnant water is a sure recipe for disaster.

Rubber-made types of containers work great. The container should be placed atop the gravel, on the opposite side of the basking spot.

Development and Reproduction

The mating season for Northern leopard frogs is in the spring, between March and June.

Male northern leopards are known to make a rumbling call that pretty much resembles snoring in order to attract females. It is the female to select a male to mate with. The pair is to mate once.

After successful mating, females are to lay their eggs in the water. The number of eggs can reach up to 6500 in total, although it is typically limited to about 5000 eggs.

The eggs of Northern leopard frogs are round, with darker centers, and a gelatinous texture.

The eggs give way to tadpoles upon hatching. Tadpoles are usually pale brown, spotted with dark marks.

The rate of hatching, as well as the rate of development,  varies, and both are dependable on various conditions, one of the major being temperature.

The average time frame within which eggs typically develop into adults is between 70 and 110 days. During this crucial period of their lifespan, the tadpoles are to gain weight, grow legs, develop lungs, and ultimately, lose their tails.

Since juvenile frogs are aquatic, they need to go through a metamorphosis before they turn into fully-fledged adults, and this is why they are born without legs.

Usually, it is at some point in late July when the tail has already receded, while the arms and legs have grown successfully.

Juvenile northern leopard frogs are as tiny as about 3.5 centimeters in length on average. It takes two years for the juveniles to reach maturity.

How to Breed

When northern leopards reach sexual maturity (about two years of age), this will not go unnoticed as they will start to “sing” in order to attract their mating partners during the breeding season.

If a keeper is to have several northern leopard frogs (both males and females included), breeding is a fairly easy process that happens without any specific preparations.

The pool is to be visibly full of eggs if the copulation is successful, with the clutches typically attached to the underside of the aquatic plants.

Handling

Handling a Northern Leopard frog is not a complicated task, apart from the possible difficulties newbie owners may experience when trying to catch their pet, as these frogs are known as notorious hiders, and nonetheless, leap jumpers.

Be careful when opening the mesh screen/lid, and make sure you have planned your moves in advance, or these escape artists can quickly jump out of their enclosure.

It is imperative that the frog is to be only handled carefully and gently, without squeezing any part of its delicate body at any point.

Also, keep in mind that these creatures generally dislike being handled, as this is often stressful for them, even though the mature specimen raised in captivity can get pretty well-used to handling. Anyway, it is best to avoid handling too frequently.

Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling a northern leopard frog.

How to Treat and Prevent Possible Health Issues

Similarly to many other captive frogs, northern leopards are vulnerable to red leg disease. This disease is caused by a parasite.

Just like the name suggests, it becomes noticeable because of reddening in the legs zone. Northern leopard frogs suffering from red leg disease are sluggish and apathetic. If caught in a timely manner, red leg disease is treatable. In the case, owners are to have any suspicions that their pet leopard frog might be suffering from this disease, a visit to an aquatic veterinarian needs to be planned as soon as feasible.

Northern leopard frogs are prone to fungal infections, too. These infections appear as a cottony-like substance on the skin or as inflammation. Given such types of infections are caught early, they are usually easily treatable. Consulting a qualified medical professional remains a must.

Do not attempt to treat any possible health issues by submerging your Northern leopard frog into any solution based on other frog owner’s guidelines without consulting a veterinarian in advance, or else, doing so can lead to fatal consequences for the amphibian.

Possible Dangers to Humans

In general, Northern leopard frogs are not dangerous to humans. When they feel threatened, they do release a mild toxin. However, this toxin really isn’t potent enough to cause harm to humans.

The toxin released by northern leopards serves as a natural defense mechanism against predators. Then again, it is mild enough to have little to no noticeable effects on human beings.

Like other amphibians and reptiles, though, northern leopard frogs may carry salmonella bacteria, which can transfer to humans, leading to possible harms that are not to be underestimated.

Availability: How to Get a Northern Leopard Frog?

Within their natural range, Northern leopard frogs tend to be fairly easy to be caught, especially in weedy edges of small creeks, ponds, or lakes. However, wild Northern leopard frogs can carry unwanted bacteria, and one never knows whether the frog he/she has captured will manage to survive, as well as for how long it would possibly survive.

The best way to get a healthy, beautiful Northern leopard frog pet is to purchase one from reliable retailers or breeders. Some pet shops also offer mail order.

When purchasing a northern leopard frog, don’t hesitate to tell the staff that you intend to keep the reptile as a pet and that you are not about to use it for dissection purposes. This way, the knowledgeable staff will offer you some of the prettiest specimens by request. 

A healthy northern leopard’s eyes will not be cloudy, and the skin will appear rather clear. If the frog appears to be hyperactive, don’t fret; these amphibians tend to become overly active when feeling nervous, so once you introduce them into their new home, they will calm down.

Fun Facts

  1. The song of the northern leopard frogs is a beautiful sign that spring has arrived in North America.
  2. Apart from being some of the most famous amphibians kept as pets, Northern leopard frogs are widely cherished for medical research and science education purposes. Commonly used for dissection, it is thanks to these creatures how many educators teach about the way muscles can enter different modes of locomotion, such as jumping and swimming, as well as to study biomechanics.
  3. The sartorius muscle of Northern leopard frogs is much preferred for educational purposes as it can remain alive in vitro for several hours. This provides educators with the opportunity for further experimentation on neuron and muscle physiology.
  4. Northern leopard frogs produce a type of enzyme known as ribonucleases. This enzyme is used to treat various forms of cancer, such as pleural mesothelioma, lung tumors, and brain tumors. 
  5. Currently, human activity is the leading threat to the well-being of the Northern leopard frog populations. Fertilizers, urban runoff, and pesticides are huge contributors to the severe decline of these amazing amphibians in particular areas. Nonetheless, the introduction of non-native species, as well as acid rain, are also threatening the northern leopards in the wild. Damming rivers, cutting of land for agriculture purposes, as well as for lumber, are also part of the corrupt practices that destroy the natural habitat of these incredible living creatures.

The conscious buying decisions we make every single day can contribute to keeping these amphibians safe from harm, especially provided more people are to switch to environmental-friendly products, services, and lifestyles.

How to Take Care of a Northern Leopard Frog

  1. Northern leopard frogs are some of the most popular amphibian pets out there as they thrive in temperatures that are quite close to the temperatures comfortable to humans. Also, these frogs will gladly eat readily-available prey, so feeding is not a complicated task.
  2. It is imperative that the water used in the tank of northern leopard frogs is to be dechlorinated. For this purpose, keepers can use a suitable product made for removing chloramine and chlorine, purchased from a reputable pet store.
  3. Mind that, according to some experts, constant water vibrations induced by a filtered source are believed to lead to sensory overload with northern leopard frogs. Because of this, it is best for such practices to be avoided. However, it is a good idea to do a 50% water change through filtration on a regular basis, at least two times each week. Just remember not to let filtration run continuously 24/7.
  4. Choosing high-quality frog supplies is key when taking care of a Northern leopard frog pet indoors. Since changing the water, as well as cleaning a large aquarium regularly, is almost certain to feel like a burden at some point in the long run, getting equipped with the right set of frog supplies is sure to do much of the heavy lifting for you.
  5. Feeding northern leopards for free can be quite easy when the weather is warm. Simply turn on your porch light, and you will be able to attract plenty of wonderful treats flying in.
  6. Although northern leopards in the wild are opportunistic feeders, it is best to avoid offering your amphibian pet any meal that is capable of biting or stinging, such as honeybees, big spiders, big ants, and hornets, to name a few.
  7. The key to taking care of a healthy, happy northern leopard frog pet is a diet rich in a variety of nutritious meals. Mixing more suitable treats together is the best way to assure that your pet is to grow in perfect shape and health.
  8. Every once a month, a baby rat can be offered to northern leopard frogs as a treat that will give them a major burst of energy. However, mind not to overfeed them, and especially when it comes to possible overdoing rats or your amphibian friend can easily become as wide as it is long in size!

FAQs

Do Leopard Frogs Need Water?

Yes, Northern leopard frogs, as well as Southern leopard frogs alike, do need water in order to survive. The presence of slow-moving, permanent water is preferable for these amphibians, even though they spend about half of their time on land.

How far Can Leopard Frogs Jump?

Leopard frogs can leap the impressive 5 – 6 feet in a distinct, zig-zag-like pattern. They typically get to showcase their amazing jumping skills only to avoid being captured, though. Apart from excellent jumpers, they are also excellent swimmers.

Do Leopard Frogs Make Good Pets for Beginners?

Yes, leopard frogs can make excellent pets for both beginners, as well as experienced caregivers who are charmed by these creatures’ temper and beauty. Northern leopard frogs require only low maintenance, so they can be the perfect choice for enthusiasts of all levels of experience, and especially for the novice ones.

How Can You Tell if a Northern Leopard Frog is Female or Male?

In general, you can tell whether a Northern leopard frog is male or female if you have several of these amphibians so that you can tell the difference. Females are larger than males.

Are Northern Leopard Frogs children-friendly Pets?

Yes, as they are easy to care for and not posing any serious threats to humans if raised properly, Northern leopard frogs can make great, quite enjoyable, and nonetheless, hardy pets for both children, adults, and elderly people alike. These amphibians can “teach” children a lot of virtues, such as patience and love for the living nature, but parental control is advised for minors before they are well-versed on how to take proper care of these creatures.

What do Do Northern Leopard Frogs eat in Captivity?

Captive Northern leopard frogs will happily eat various insects, as well as other invertebrates. Most of the time, these amphibians are best to be fed with earthworms and crickets. Since a varied diet is key to ensure the well-being of these frogs, mealworms, nightcrawlers, silkworms, roaches, and wax worms should be also provided as part of a healthy feeding routine.

Are Northern Leopard Frogs Endangered?

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has officially designated the northern leopard frogs native to British Columbia endangered. Partially due to wetlands being drained, as well as due to pesticides found in the water, the populations of Northern Leopard frogs in Canada have greatly plummeted in the period between the 1970s and the 1980s. Fortunately, in other areas of their natural habitat, populations seem to be steady in number.

How Do Northern Leopard Frogs Swallow their Prey?

Cineradiography shows that as Northern leopard frogs swallow their prey, the eyes, as well as the related musculature, are to retract into the oropharynx. Also, they appear to be making eye contact with their prey when swallowing it. It is believed that eye contact helps to push the prey toward these amphibians’ esophagus, although experts further claim that eye contact may also serve as a means for these frogs to anchor the prey using tongue-based transportation pathways.

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