The Leopard’s Spots

Here in New York state, differentiating between Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) and Pickerel Frogs (Rana palustris) can be tough. So when I encountered this happy fellow on an amphibian hunt this week (I was exploring Dusky Ravine on an unseasonably warm afternoon following a few hours of rain) I puzzled over how to make a positive ID.

A Pickerel frog I photographed last Fall.
A Leopard frog I photographed this week.

First of all, the leaps of both Leopards and Pickerels are high and long, and this guy led me on quite a chase after I startled him from creekside leaves. All of the jumping around revealed flashes of bright yellow under his legs, which is typically an identifier of Pickerel frogs.

But the dorsal spots, which were smaller, rounder, and kind of scattered, were nothing like a Pickerel. Pickerels pretty reliably have 2 relatively uniform rows of block-shaped spots. 

Even among the many variations of Pickerel frog dorsal spots (a collaged selection from the Encyclopedia of Life is shown above), nothing really resembled the crowded spots of the frog I encountered. So I’m calling this one for the Leopards.

Even photographed through creek water, you can see the irregular spots on my friend's back.

My Friend the Biologist agreed after I emailed him some shots: “I would go with Leopard frog. I think the dorsal markings would be less variable than the faint patches of color under the legs. Could just be a frog with poor hygiene! Ha!”


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