Frog Friday: Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog
Back in August, we announced the possibility that a new species of frog had been discovered in Virginia. The genetic results are in and we do indeed have a new species: the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog (Rana kauffeldi)! Although we only began studying this species two years ago, we have learned quite a bit about it.
The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog has been found at multiple locations in the southeastern Coastal Plain, but most likely ranges throughout the Coastal Plain in Virginia. To date, it has been documented in Charles City, New Kent, Sussex, Surry, Southampton, and Isle of Wight counties and in the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake. Watersheds include the Northwest, Nottoway, Blackwater, and Chickahominy rivers.
A side-by-side comparison of the two species. (Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog on the left and Southern Leopard Frog on the right.) Photo by J.D. Kleopfer.
This species is a medium-sized frog that is very similar in appearance to the Southern Leopard Frog. It has 2 or 3 rows of brown or green irregularly placed dark spots between conspicuous dorsolateral ridges. However, with careful observation there are a few visual ways to tell the two species apart. The snout of the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog is more rounded than that of the Southern Leopard Frog, which has a pointed snout. The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog also has a more muted pattern. The white spot on the center of the eardrum is much duller in the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog than in the Southern Leopard Frog, on which it is often a prominent characteristic. An additional characteristic on the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog can be found on the inside of its thighs, which have a reticulated yellow or green pattern on a dark to black background.
The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog appears to be more of a habitat specialist in comparison to the Southern Leopard Frog. It has been found in forested riparian wetlands where it primarily feeds on insects. Much like the Southern Leopard Frog, it becomes highly terrestrial in late summer as wetlands begin to dry. At this same time of year, they may also appear much darker.
Mating season begins in late February and probably continues until early April. However, vocalization may occur again in the early fall as the rains return. The voice is a quack-like call similar to a wood frog. In some areas, hybridization is occurring with the southern leopard frog, which may produce intermediate phenotypes and vocalizations creating problems with accurate identification.
Photos by J.D. Kleopfer.
This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 28 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.