Named for the dark spots on their backs, leopard or meadow frogs are small, semiaquatic frogs; there are about 14 species of them. They are fascinating to observe but do not like handling. Leopard frogs are excellent pets for inexperienced frog owners. All leopard frog species are relatively easy to care for, although they do require regular cage maintenance of least two hours per week.
The most common variety kept as a pet is the northern leopard frog, which is bright green with brown spots. The southern leopard frog is another common pet species that is olive green or light brown with dark spots. The plains leopard frog or Blair's leopard frog is brown with dark spots, although it is rare to find as a pet. Their native habitat range extends from temperate and subtropical North America to northern Mexico.
Common Name: Leopard frog, northern leopard frog, southern leopard frog, plains leopard frog, Blair's leopard frog, meadow frog
Scientific Name: Lithobates or Rana genus
Adult Size: 3 to 5 inches long
Life Expectancy: 5 to 8 years
Leopard Frog Behavior and Temperament
These cute frogs sometimes come out during the day but are primarily nocturnal. While they may try to eat anything they can swallow (which also includes other frogs), their main diet consists of insects. They're somewhat timid and do not like being held much, hiding below the water when they feel threatened.
They are harmless to humans and do not produce toxins. However, like all reptiles and amphibians, they can have salmonella which is a harmful bacteria to people. Wear gloves when handling and wash hands thoroughly. Be prepared to take them in and out of their cage at least once a week to clean their cage.
Be advised these frogs can jump up to 3 feet given their powerful hind legs. Domesticated frogs aren't as likely to jump, but if they feel threatened, they may try to leap away.
Housing the Leopard Frog
A 10- to 20-gallon tank is sufficient for a single leopard frog, but if you are keeping more than one, increase the tank by 10 gallons per frog. For this species of frog, floor space is more important than height. Leopard frogs are semiaquatic and need land area as well as sufficient water to submerge their bodies.
A half-land, half-water tank is an excellent choice for leopard frogs. You can separate the tank into zones with Plexiglas. A thick piece of wood such as driftwood can be placed partly in the water and partly on land to provide a smooth transition from water to land. This piece of wood can also double as a suitable basking spot. Alternately, smooth gravel or flat rocks can be stacked on the aquatic side to provide a ramp out of the water. Smooth gravel is less likely to cause skin abrasions and injuries, and ideally, the gravel should be large enough that the small frogs cannot swallow it.
If possible, use a removable water container on the water side that is easy to put in and take out for cleaning every two to three days. Avoid using a water filter, instead, do a 50 percent water change regularly (at least twice weekly, perhaps more). Some experts believe that constant water vibrations from a water filtration pump can cause sensory overload in frogs.
Every other week, you will need to clean the enclosure thoroughly with hot water. Do not use soap as detergent residues can kill frogs. Remove and replace the substrate and clean the walls and bottom of the tank.
The tank should be kept between 70 to 75 degrees F during the day. However, a temperature drop at night is a good idea, down to about 60 F (about 16 C). As these creatures are cold-blooded, they need to regulate their internal body temperature. They do this by moving around in their cage to cold down or get warm. Provide a thermal gradient or range of temperatures in the cage. You can do this by providing a basking spot or warm area that goes up to 80 F at one end of the cage. Use a ceramic heat emitter, nocturnal heat light, or under tank heating pad to provide a temperature variant.
Leopard frogs hibernate, so in the winter, they will slow down and may stop eating for about three months. If possible, cool the habitat from 37 to 39 F for the winter months to mimic the frog's natural environment.
As they are mostly nocturnal, ultraviolet or UVB light is not required, although it can be beneficial for providing a day/night cycle and the invisible rays can help your frog metabolize calcium. Some frog owners feel this light is not necessary, but it is not harmful and likely helpful to your frog.
Just make sure the frog can't jump onto the lamp and make sure your mesh screen lid is secure. Avoid making the enclosure too bright; it may keep your frogs continuously hiding.
An ideal humidity range for the cage is 50 to 70 percent. If your frog needs more humidity, it can submerge in the water. A hygrometer or humidity gauge will help you check moisture levels. Use a spray bottle to mist the cage with dechlorinated water several times a day, or you can automate this with an electronic mister or fogger that uses sensors or a timer.
Substrate is the bedding or lining for the bottom of your pet's cage. You can use organic potting soil or a combination of soil and peat moss with reptile bark and sphagnum moss on the terrestrial side to allow the frogs to burrow. The depth of the substrate on the earthy side should be at least 2 to 3 inches to allow burrowing.
Provide plants and wood pieces for climbing, hiding spots, and basking. When selecting plants for your frog's cage, get plants that thrive in a similar climate: temperature in the 70s F, high humidity, and lower light. Also, make sure your plant selections are not toxic to amphibians. Your best options will be low-lying ferns.
Food and Water
Feed leopard frogs a variety of invertebrates, such as crickets, wax worms, fly larvae, and earthworms. A meal of three to four crickets daily is a good starting point for younger frogs, and experts recommend feeding mature frogs only every other day. Variety seems to be essential with frogs.
Crickets can make up the bulk of their diet, supplementing them with a variety of other insects, such as roaches, flies, moths, and worms. Prey items should be gut-loaded (fed nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, dog food, fish food, or cricket gut loading formula) before being given to the frog. Every other feeding, dust the crickets with a reptile calcium powder.
Keep an eye on your frog's body shape. Remember that overfeeding is likely more of a problem than underfeeding. Frogs are opportunistic eaters. Make sure that your frog is not getting too round, and if so, cut back on the frequency of feeding.
The water used in a leopard frog tank must not have chlorine or chloramine, which may be added to municipal tap water. To be safe, use a pet supply product made for removing chlorine and chloramine.
Common Health Problems
Like many captive frogs, pet leopard frogs are susceptible to red leg disease, a parasitic infection that can cause reddening of the legs. Symptoms include sluggishness and a loss of interest in eating or activity.
Leopard frogs are also prone to fungal infections, which appear as inflammation or a cottony-looking substance on the skin.
These conditions are treatable but require a visit to an exotics veterinarian.
Choosing Your Leopard Frog
The best places to buy your leopard frog would be a reputable breeder or reptile expo that often features amphibians too. Pet stores do not usually maintain the best husbandry practices, nor do they have a lot of information on the birthdate or health history of your frog. On average, whether you get your from a pet store or breeder, they can cost $10 to $25; this varies on the rarity of the species.
Look for frogs with clear skin and eyes that aren't cloudy. While these frogs may not be overly active, that's not a cause for concern; they frequently remain still to avoid predators or whenever they're feeling nervous.
Similar Species to Leopard Frogs
If a leopard frog interests you, you may want to look into related species:
- African Bullfrog Species Profile
- American Green Tree Frog Species Profile
- White's Tree Frog Species Profile
Otherwise, check out all of our other frog profiles.
Noninfectious Disorders of Amphibians. Merck Veterinary Manual