NORTHERN LEOPARD FROG

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Dramatic and abrupt declines in northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) populations starting in the late 1970s have resulted in extirpation of this species from parts of its historic range in western North America. This includes much of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR) where the frog was historically present along major rivers and tributaries, lakes, springs, and irrigation reservoirs.

As part of the Species at Risk Action Plan for Waterton Biosphere Reserve 2015-2018 the WBR has embarked on a project to support northern leopard frog conservation in the area and we invite YOU to be a part of it !

Waterton Lakes National Park is working toward establishing a self-sustaining northern leopard frog population and frogs have been successfully reintroduced to Beauvais Lake Provincial Park and Magrath in recent years. The WBR Project aims to create public awareness on the importance of northern leopard frogs in our ecosystem and to create opportunities for WBR residents to help improve their status in our area.

We are soliciting local knowledge about past and present northern leopard frog occurrences, identifying possible locations for habitat improvement or future reintroductions, and leveraging interest into opportunities to educate on other amphibian species at risk, associated wetland habitats, and their stewardship in the WBR.

WHY NORTHERN LEOPARD FROGS ?

Frogs are important for many reasons:

  • Amphibians are the most threatened group of organisms on our planet; an estimated 40% of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
  • Frogs control populations of insects and other invertebrates, some of which are serious pests or carry disease.
  • Amphibians contribute to ecosystem integrity (the loss of one species may not seem to be a problem but we do not fully understand the intricacies of the natural world, and you never know which species could lead to a catastrophic loss of ecosystem function).
  • Tadpoles can limit algae growth and oxygen depletion which can cause death of other wetland species.
  • They are important links between aquatic and terrestrial habitats, contributing to the cycling of nutrients.

How you can support the northern leopard frog

Beginning in April 2017, the WBR Northern Leopard Frog Project encourages you to submit observations of this important frog and share your stories on where they might be found in the WBR (past or present).  Because we know the northern leopard frog numbers are low in this area we are asking that you submit observations of potential habitat for them, where you have seen them in the past, along with actual observations of the frog. This is a straightforward and simple process that can be done by anyone (no special skills required!).

How it works:

  • Look for habitat where you think the northern leopard frog might like to live.
  • Watch and listen for the northern leopard frog.
  • Take photos/recordings of your observations.
  • Take note of the location of your observations.
  • Submit your observations AND stories about the northern leopard frog to us at nleopardfrog(at)watertonbiosphere.com

Submission guidelines:

When I think about the northern leopard frog I immediately recall my childhood. I spent countless hours in the woods with siblings and cousins, enjoying our family property south of Mountain View where we owned a section of land. Bisecting this property was a meandering creek which was home to a small population of industrious beaver. The series of dams which they maintained created a wetland habitat and for us, a veritable playground in which to explore, fish, swim and of course catch frogs. – submission from Allen Nelson

Contact information:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Email address

Submission:

  • Land Location (legal land description)
  • Private or public property ?
  • Type of habitat: steam, pond, creek, river, other wetland etc.
  • Were northern leopard frogs seen ?
  • Were northern leopard frogs heard ?
  • Did you record your observations with an audio recording or photograph ? If so please email them with your submission.
  • Date and time of observation
  • Were other frogs or amphibians heard or seen in the area ? If so please describe your observations.
  • Other comments (Share your frog STORIES !) 
  • Are you interested in receiving updates on the Northern Leopard frog project ?

*Privacy statementAll  information collected is confidential and to be used only by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve and other project partners.

To view and print a copy of the submission guidelines (pdf) click here.

Project area:
The core of the WBR is Waterton Lakes National Park, from there it extends at least as far as the M.D. of Pincher Creek, Cardston County and Crowsnest Pass, including the Piikani and Kainai Reserves, and a portion of the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve.  There are no firm boundaries but this map will give participants a general idea of the area included in the Northern Leopard Frog Project.

If you would like someone to come out and look at your property to see if there are northern leopard frogs present please let us know. We are also asking that anyone with experience in this type of field work who would like to volunteer a few hours to help with identification please get in touch with us.

Stay up to date on the Northern Leopard Frog Project by subscribing to our email list.  Future plans for this project include workshops on northern leopard frog stewardship and possible reintroductions.

 

NORTHERN LEOPARD FROG IDENTIFICATION

 

Size

  • The northern leopard frog is the largest frog found in Alberta.
  • On average, adult frogs can range from 50 to 130 millimetres (two to five inches) in length, measuring from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail.

Appearance

  • Either green or brown, with a pale white belly.
  • Can be easily identified by its large dark spots bordered with pale rings. These spots can be found dotting the back, sides and legs of the frog. Occasionally, leopard frogs will be unspotted.
  • Has prominent, light-coloured dorsolateral folds; these are glandular ridges that separate the back from the sides of the frog, and that run along the frog’s back from the eyes to the tail.

Voice/call

  • During mating season, males call to attract females. The call is low-pitched and can sound like someone rubbing a balloon, or like a short guttural snore followed by several clucking or grunting noises.
  • Click here to listen to northern leopard frogs calling at a marsh in Manitoba on a May afternoon. Boreal chorus frogs are also heard in the background.

Habitat

  • The northern leopard frog is found in a variety of habitats and is relatively cold-adapted.
  • This frog is associated with a wide range of permanent water bodies, and can often be found along the edges of ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and lakes.
  • Leopard frogs prefer clear, clean water in open or lightly wooded areas. They rarely occur in dense forested areas.
  • Unlike other local frogs that burrow into mud through winter, northern leopard frogs stay relatively active beneath the ice of a waterbody. To get through winter, they need waterbodies with water of sufficient depth that do not freeze through and that contain highly oxygenated water, such as creeks, rivers, springs, or large lakes/wetlands.
  • Preferably, breeding and overwinter sites do not contain predaceous fish such as trout or pike.
  • Both breeding and overwintering may take place within the same waterbody. Often, a separate breeding wetland and overwintering site within 1 km of one another are suitable for supporting northern leopard frogs.

When active

  • In Alberta, the active season for this frog runs from April to October.
  • Are most active in warm, wet weather, or at dawn or dusk if the climate is not too cool.
  • Will rest during the day in wet areas or shallow pockets in the soil, areas where they can absorb moisture and avoid predators. The frogs bask in the sun to raise their body temperature and speed food digestion.

The above identification information is provided courtesy of Alberta Parks. For more details on the northern leopard frog including similar species, breeding behavior and further details on identification visit the Alberta Parks website.

Northern Leopard Frog Stewardship

Discover how you can help support a healthy environment for frogs and other amphibians. 

Amphibians on My Land (ACA)
Cows and Fish – Alberta Riparian Health Management Society
Alberta Environmental Farm Plan – Species at Risk Initiative

Project Supporters: