Southern Leopard Frog Care Sheet

Southern Leopard Frog

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Southern Leopard Frog
Scientific Name:Lithobates Sphenocephalus/Rana Sphenocephala
Life Span:8 to 12 years
Care Level:Beginner
Length: Up to 3.5 to 5 inches
Habitat:Shallow, Freshwater Environment
Country of Origin:United States

Physical Description

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The Southern Leopard frog is a frog that is medium in size. It is uniquely characterized by spots on its sides, back, and legs. Its appearance is similar to that of a leopard, thus the name. This species of frog loves living in wetland habitats, and they are usually found in Maryland, near the Chesapeake Bay in Eastern Virginia, and Southeastern Pennsylvania. 

These leopard frogs are usually green or brown in color, typically growing between 3 to 5 inches in length. By nature, females are larger compared with males. They also have dark green to brown spots visible on their back, legs, and sides. These spots are surrounded with light borders. 

Adults are characterized by two yellow or gold dorsolateral folds that extend from behind the eyes down to their waist. They also have pointed and long heads, along with a white spot right in the middle of their eardrum. The frog’s upper jaw also has a light stripe which is yellow at times. Male frogs also have paired vocal sacs that look like small balloons on either side of the throats, especially when they are calling. 

Another distinguishing feature of these frogs is the absence of digital pads on their toes. This species is categorized as sexually dimorphic, which means that males are smaller than females. In general, there are around 14 species of leopard frogs. All of them are identified by a common factor – dark and round spots on their back, resembling those of leopards. They may be purchased online, or from pet stores. 


Southern Leopard Frogs are typically found nearby freshwater habitats within their range. In summertime, they usually disperse from their water home, settling in moist vegetation. They can also be found around 1 to 5 km from their habitat in water. The eggs and larvae go through the natural development process in still and shallow water. At times, they develop in brackish water. 

Lifespan and Longevity

The life expectancy among Southern Leopard Frogs in the wild is still unknown. Most of these frogs usually do not survive their first year. The adult frogs hibernate in the northern parts within their range, which gives the idea that they can thrive up to 2 to 3 years. Other subspecies of leopard frogs usually average 6 to 9 years of age. 

Communication and Perception

The sound of Southern Leopard Frog is similar to a short and chuckle-like guttural voice. Some of their calls may sound like the rubbing of a hand back and forth on a rubber balloon. These guttural trills are short, within a rate of 10 to 12 per second. 

These species utilize a wide variety of calls, especially during the breeding season. The call travels far distances, even farther than other species. Male frogs also use visual cues when they compete for mates. At the same time, tactile cues are also used during the mating season.

Feeding and Diet

These frogs usually eat mainly on land. The majority of their diet is composed of eating insects, though they also feed on worms and arthropods. Mature frogs are mainly invertivores, which means that they usually feed on terrestrial arthropods. 

Immature larvae, on the other hand, are herbivorous, which means that they usually feed on algae, organic debris, and plant tissue. Bigger frogs will eat small vertebrates occasionally, even though this might be rare.


Similar to most frog subspecies, Southern Leopard Frogs also play a huge role in food chains. Their predators include river otters, great blue herons, southern water snakes, grackles, northern black snakes, brown water snakes, water moccasins, as well as peninsular ribbon snakes. Tadpoles and eggs are usually eaten by aquatic insects, fishes, fishing spiders, salamanders, and other predators. 

These frogs are also captured in huge numbers and used as fishing bait, classroom teaching purposes, as well as scientific research.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Southern Leopard Frogs usually breed around February to December.  The breeding season is usually initiated with rain, thus prompting the male frogs to call to females. They also call at any month of the year, excluding July and August. 

Most of their breeding happens between April and August. Frogs that are breeding usually gather in huge groups. The breeding call for males has composed of a series of 3 to 5 guttural croaks, which is then followed by 2 or 3 clucks, which is similar to the sound produced by rubbing an inflated balloon. 

Once the eggs are fertilized, they are attached in clusters of hundreds to vegetation that is just beneath the water surface. The breeding frogs usually place several egg clusters in a specific small area. The eggs usually hatch around one to two weeks. The tadpoles typically feed on algae, as well as other organic materials. The process of metamorphosis usually happens around three months. 

Tadpoles that are newly hatched are usually between 20 and 25 mm in length. They reach up to 65 to 70 mm eventually before their actual transformation. The entire stage of being a tadpole takes about 90 days. Their tail starts to show some dark spots once metamorphosis is sure. After their full transformation, the young frog will reach up to 20 mm in length.


Southern Leopard Frogs are generally nocturnal, which means that they usually hide at daytime in vegetation, usually at the edge of their water habitat. When they are threatened, these frogs try to avoid their predators by going into the water, swimming to escape. When they are on land, they have high jumps, usually in sequences of three jumps at a time. These frogs are usually solitary out of their breeding season when they are with their large breeding colonies. 

Roles in the Ecosystem

Southern Leopard Frogs usually play a very important role in the natural food chain. River otters, birds, big fish, as well as several snake species usually prey on them. In return, these frogs also eat smaller frogs, larvae, and insects. 

They are also raised and consumed by humans, especially their huge, meaty rear legs. They are also commonly used for dissection during science classes. They also eat huge amounts of pest insects, including mosquitoes. This could also be beneficial to humans. 

Conservation Status

Because of the wide distribution of Southern Leopard Frogs, they are listed as “Least Concern.” They are also presumed to have a large population, with the less likelihood of fast decline. These are just some of the reasons why they are listed in a safe category.

Similar Species

A similar species to Southern Leopard Frogs is the Pickerel Frog. They usually feature square-shaped dark spots, along with bright orange or yellow color on the concealed part of their hind legs. Another species, Gopher Frogs, have more rounded snouts, with chunkier and fatter bodies. One of the best ways to differentiate them is their range. 

How to Care for Southern Leopard Frogs as Pets

These frogs are named based on the dark spots that are located on their backs. They are small and semi-aquatic frogs. Even though they may try to eat anything that they can see and swallow, including other frogs, their main diet is primarily composed of eating insects. They are usually timid, usually hiding beneath the water, especially when they are threatened. 

It should be noted that they are capable of jumping up to 3 feet, thanks to their powerful hind legs. Frogs that have been taken home as pets, however, may not be as likely to do so, though their reaction may still be the same when they feel threatened. 

These frogs are wired naturally to hibernate, which is why they will slow down, even stopping to eat during the winter. This usually happens for about three months. As such, whenever possible, the tank where you house your frog should be cooled to between 37 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. This will allow the mimic the natural environment of the frog. 

Care for Leopard Frog Tadpoles

Generally speaking, leopard frog tadpoles are not that challenging to take care of. This is particularly true if you already have some experience in caring for them. If you have ordered tadpoles, there are some things that you need to prepare before your tadpole arrives. This includes a container where they can grow until they develop back legs, thermometer, aquarium water conditioner, and store-purchased tadpole food. If you have also purchased a tadpole to frog kit, it would be easier for you to start caring for your tadpoles. All you need to do is to follow the instructions in the kit. 

Leopard frog tadpoles will thrive in 2 to 5-gallon tanks, as well as in 1 or 2-gallon bin containers. These can be bought at a local pet store. When they arrive, make sure that they are swimming and moving inside the aquarium bag. They might be sleeping if they are not moving. Even though tadpoles do not really sleep much, sleep when they feel that their environment is safe. Shaking the bag, however, will wake them up. 

There may be tadpoles that are weak because of their birth conditions. They usually do not live for several days. This may be a reason for dead tadpoles upon arrival. Though you can still up to use small tanks or containers for the tadpoles, Southern leopard frogs need a big amount of room to live in captivity comfortably. If you want, you can prepare a bigger habitat early on so that you do not need to spend on two habitats.

After making sure that your tadpoles are healthy and alive, you can prepare the aquarium bag aside as you prepare their habitat. You may also want some accessories in their habitat before adding water to it. Since you have aquatic pets, there is no need to put so many accessories. However, having gravel will further increase its surface area. This further encourages the growth of valuable bacteria that helps in maintaining the quality of water. 

You may also want to place a water plant that will also prove to be beneficial since it can help in keeping the water clean while providing your tadpoles some hiding place or shelter. When filling in water to their habitat, avoid using tap water as it may contain dangerous chemicals that could be harmful to your tadpoles. You may also choose to add an aquarium water conditioner to make the water suitable for your pets. 

Housing for Your Southern Leopard Frog

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Usually, a tank that is 10-gallon in size is enough for housing a single leopard frog. However, if you want to keep more, then the size of the tank should also increase, taking into consideration that the floor space should be given more attention than the height. These frogs are also semiaquatic, requiring a land area, and a body of water that is huge enough so that they can easily submerge their bodies if they need to.

A tank that is half-land and half-water is a good choice for your pets. They can be prepared in a number of ways. The easiest is to separate the water and land areas using a piece of plastic placed along with the aquarium, and then sealing it using aquarium-grade silicon sealant. This will allow using soil on the terrestrial side in order to allow the frogs to successfully burrow. 

A dense wooden piece, like driftwood, may be installed partly on land, and partly in the water, thus giving a smooth transition for the frogs moving from water to land. This can also serve as a basking spot for the frogs. As an alternative, gravel may also be sloped in the part of the water, as this will serve as a ramp for the frogs out of the water.

The soil to be used on the terrestrial part need to be at least 2 to 3 inches. This will allow burrowing. You may also use a layer of gravel on the aquatic part. It is very important to note that smooth gravel should be used in order to prevent injuries and skin abrasions. It is recommended to use gravel that is large enough to ensure that the smaller frogs cannot swallow them. Driftwood and plants may also be used for the frogs to climb, hide and bask. 

Lighting Conditions

The recommended lighting for their housing is UVA/UVB light. This light will mimic a day/night cycle, while providing the required invisible rays that will allow the frogs to metabolize specific nutrients in the body, such as calcium. Some owners, however, feel that this type of light is not needed. The decision of whether or not to use this type of light is up to you, though it is not harmful to use, and would most likely offer benefits to your pets. 

One thing to note, however, is to make sure that your frog cannot jump to the lamp. This means that you may need to create a mesh screen lid that will provide security. Avoid making the lamp enclosure too bright, as the frogs have the tendency to hide if your tank is extremely lit.

Heat and Temperature

Your tank can be kept at a room temperature ranging from 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 24 degrees Celsius). A temperature drop at nighttime may also be a good idea, at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (about 16 degrees Celsius). 

Water and Food

Southern Leopard Frogs need to be fed a wide variety of invertebrates, as this is their main food in the wild. This includes wax worms, crickets, earthworms, and fly larvae. The usual meal is consists of three to four crickets every day as a good place to start, even though some experts also recommend feeding adult frogs once every two days. When it comes to Southern Leopard Frogs, variety is the key.

While crickets usually make the bulk of the frogs’ diet, it should still be supplemented with a range of other worms and insects. Their food should be gut loaded, meaning, fed with nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish food, dog food, or gut loading formula. Once a week, it is also recommended to dust the crickets using a reptile calcium powder. 

Make sure that you keep an eye on the body shape of your frog. Overfeeding may most likely cause problems than underfeeding. As such, it is important to make sure that your frog does not get too round. When this happens, it may be needed to cut back on feeding. 

Winter Care

If you are up for it, and if the cost of providing live feed is fine with you, one of the best options that you can do is to keep your pets going right through winter. This is done by creating an “artificial sunshine” with the help of a heat lamp. If they are housed outdoors and you are living within their range, finding a good source of sunshine is no problem. 

On the other hand, if you choose the normal way of allowing them to hibernate, you may want to provide the needed substrates and areas where they can do so peacefully. Indoors, prepare a huge plastic container, filling it with around two inches of very moist, loose soil. On top of it, you can place some dead leaves. It is recommended to chill these leaves first in the refrigerator. 

Make sure that the container has some holes in the lid, checking on them around once a month, digging into the leaves in order to see whether they are still healthy and moist. It may be helpful to sprinkle them with water since they usually absorb water as they are sleeping. 

Note that a warm, healthy, and actively feeding frog should never be plunged into hibernation, as this could be fatal. They need to be slowed-down gradually throughout a period of several weeks or more if they will hibernate. 

Potential Health Issues

Just like other captive frog species, pet Southern Leopard frogs are also susceptible to red leg disease. This condition is caused by a parasite. As suggested by its name, this disease is characterized by a reddening of the legs. A frog that is suffering from this disease will be sluggish and weak. Even though it is completely treatable when observed early, red leg disease does not need a visit to a veterinarian.

Southern Leopard frogs also have the tendency to catch fungal infections, usually appearing as a cotton-like substance or inflammation on the skin. When this is detected early, it can be treatable, though it may require the help of a medical professional, such as an aquatic veterinarian. Avoid treating your frogs if you are not sure of what to do, such as submerging your frog in any type of solution without a medical professional’s supervision, as it could be fatal to your pets.

Where to Get One?

Southern Leopard Frogs make great pets, even for inexperienced frog owners. They are low maintenance, given that you do not handle them quite frequently. When it comes to choosing frogs, select those with clear skin, as well as eyes that are not cloudy. Even though they may not be extremely active, they are relatively not a cause for concern. They love staying still, attempting to avoid predators, or when they feel threatened or nervous.

These frogs are available in stores that sell reptiles and amphibians. You may also get them from breeders who specialize in Southern Leopard Frogs as pets. 

Interesting Facts About Southern Leopard Frog

Here are some interesting facts about the Southern Leopard Frogs:

  • The scientific name of Southern Leopard Frog, Lithobates Sphenocephalus, comes from the Greek language. “Litho” means “stone,” while “bates” means “one that haunts or walks.” “Sphenocephalus,” on the other hand, means “wedge headed.” 
  • The taxonomic status of Southern Leopard Frogs has been debated widely. They were once considered as one species, but they are now viewed as a huge group that is consists of distinct species. 
  • The Southern Leopard Frog is considered as the most common frog that is present on the Coastal Plain. 
  • The eggs of Southern Leopard Frogs may hatch earlier than the normal, especially if predators are nearby.
  • The largest recorded Southern Leopard Frog was about five inches in length.
  • The common name of this frog, Southern Leopard Frog, is a description of its spots, which is similar to that of leopards’ spots.

FAQ Section

Is Southern Leopard Frog Poisonous?

Just like most frogs, Southern Leopard Frogs produce a mild toxin which serves as a defense mechanism against their predators. However, they are not poisonous just like other frog species, such as the Poison dart frogs. The toxin that they produce has little to zero noticeable effects on humans. What could be harmful to humans is the salmonella bacteria that they are prone to carrying. 

What do Southern Leopard Frogs eat?

Southern Leopard frogs eat insects, as well as other small invertebrates. Crickets make a staple food for them. They also eat silkworm larvae, mealworms, earthworms, and sometimes, small rodents. 

Do Southern Leopard Frogs make good pets?

These frogs are excellent pets, even for beginners and inexperienced frog owners. They are low maintenance, given that they are not handled frequently and unnecessarily.

How long do Southern Leopard frogs live?

The actual lifespan of Southern Leopard frogs is still undetermined. Most frogs do not survive during their first year. Some observe that they can survive up to 2 to 3 years. Some, however, can live about 6 to 9 years. 

Do Southern Leopard frogs change color?

In general, frogs change color for camouflage. Most are capable of altering the color of their skin, depending on their specific species. They can also camouflage in the habitat where they live. 

How can you tell the gender of Southern Leopard frogs?

Female Southern Leopard frogs are usually larger than the males. The females have oval-shaped and green or dark brown spots that are edged in a lighter color which looks like the spots that are usually present on a leopard’s body.

Do Southern Leopard Frogs hibernate?

During the winter, frogs generally go through a state of hibernation. Some species are even exposed to below freezing temperatures. Southern Leopard frogs are aquatic frogs, usually spending the winter at a nearby body of water, such as a pond. 

How do you care for a Southern Leopard frog?

The cage for the frogs should have a large aquatic space, wherein your pets could fully submerge in water. A good size is two inches of clean water, along with a plastic foam pad where they can get out of the water and bask. The water should also be changed frequently to maintain the quality of water.

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