Sunday, March 8, 2020

Episode 515 (3-9-20): The Coastal Plains Leopard Frog Calls from Many Southern Water Spots

Click to listen to episode (3:50)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 3-6-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of March 9, 2020.

SOUND – ~4 sec

This week, that mystery sound opens an episode about an early breeding frog commonly found in the eastern half of Virginia as well as throughout the southern United States.  Have a listen for about 10 more seconds and see if you know this frog.  And here’s a hint: think of a big cat and you’ll hit the spot on part of this amphibian’s name.

SOUNDS - ~11 sec

If you guessed a leopard frog, you’re right!  You heard the male breeding call of the Coastal Plains Leopard Frog, from the 2008 CD, “The Calls of Virginia Frogs and Toads,” by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Lang Elliott’s NatureSound Studio.  On that CD, the call is identified as that of the Southern Leopard Frog, which until a few years ago was the common name of this species.  The now Coastal Plains Leopard Frog is one of several North American species of leopard frog, including the Northern, Plains, Rio Grande, and Mid-Atlantic Coast leopard frogs; the latter is a newly confirmed species, just scientifically documented in 2014.  The leopard frogs, along with the Bullfrog, Green Frog, and several other species, and are in the scientific genus called Lithobates, meaning “stone that walks.”

The Coastal Plains Leopard Frog is found from Long Island, New York, to Florida, across the South to Texas, and up the Mississippi River basin to parts of the Midwest.  In Virginia, it breeds relatively early, starting in March when large groups gather and males begin making advertisement calls, such as you heard earlier.  This frog inhabits ponds, swamps, ditches, stream margins, and other freshwater habitats, as well as somewhat salty coastal marshes, although it can venture some distance from water if plants are available for cover and shade.  Its food is primarily insects that it hunts on land; in turn, it’s preyed upon by a variety of animals, including birds, mammals, and various snakes that eat adult frogs, while eggs and tadpoles are eaten by fish, salamanders, aquatic insects, and fishing spiders.

Thanks to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, and we let Coastal Plains Leopard Frogs have the last call.

SOUNDS – ~8 sec


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The Coastal Plains/Southern Leopard Frog sounds in this episode were from “The Calls of Virginia Frogs and Toads” CD, copyright 2008 by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and Lang Elliott/NatureSound Studio, used with permission.  For more information on this CD, contact VDGIF online at; by mail to P.O. Box 90778, Henrico, VA 23228-0778; by phone to (804) 367-1000 (VTDD); or by e-mail to

Lang Elliott’s work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

Thanks to Kevin Hamed, Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, for his help with this episode.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Coastal Plains Leopard Frog, photographed at Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia, April 7, 2019.  Photo by Joe Schell, made available on iNaturalist at (as of 3-8-20) for use under Creative Commons license “Attribtution-NonCommercial 4.0.”  Information about this Creative Commons license is available online at

Virginia county occurrence map for the Coastal Plains Leopard Frog (formerly the Southern Leopard Frog).  Map from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Coastal Plains Leopard Frog Occurrence,” online at


The Coastal Plains Leopard Frog’s scientific name is Lithobates sphenocephalus utricularius.

The following information on this species is quoted from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Life History Chapter for Frog, Coastal Plains Leopard,” online at

Physical Description

“This species reaches lengths between 51 and 90 mm [millimeters] (2-3.5 in).  The record length is 5 inches. The dorsal coloration is brown, green or some combination.  There are a variable number of longitudinally elongated dorsal spots which may be entirely absent.  The side of the body has only a few dark spots.  There is a distinct light spot in the center of the tympanum [ear] and a light line along the upper jaw.”


“This species breeds in winter or early spring, occasionally in the fall.  The male breeding call is described as a series of 3 to 5 guttural croaks followed by 2 or 3 ‘clucks,’ resembling the sound made by rubbing an inflated balloon. Males are difficult to approach when calling. …The female attaches a cluster of several hundred eggs to vegetation submerged immediately beneath the water surface.  Eggs will hatch in 1-2 weeks. …Metamorphosis occurs in about 3 months when the tadpole reaches 65-70 mm.”

Habitat and Behavior

“This species is found in all types of freshwater habitats [but more frequently is associated with ponds, ditches, swamps, and lake and stream margins] and even enters slightly brackish coastal marshes.  They forage mostly on land. Insects are their primary prey item though they also feed on other arthropods and worms.  This species will travel away from water when vegetation is available to provide shelter and shade.”


Used for Audio

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Southern Leopard Frog,” online at  This site has information on predators of the Coastal Plains Leopard Frog (former Southern Leopard Frog).

John D. Kleopfer and Chris S. Hobson, A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries/Bureau of Wildlife Resources Special Publication Number 3, Richmond, 2011.  Includes the CD “The Calls of Virginia Frogs and Toads,” 20008, copyright by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Lang Elliott’s NatureSound Studio.

Bernard S. Martof et al., Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1980.

J.C. Mitchell and K.K. Reay, Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Virginia, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries/Richmond (1999); available online at, courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society.

North Carolina State University Extension, “Fishing Spiders and Wolf Spiders,” online at

Roger Powell et al., Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Mass., 2016.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at  Leopard Frog species and other members of the Lithobates genus are listed at

Virginia Herpetological Society (VHS), “Frogs and Toads of Virginia,” online at  The VHS supports the scientific study of amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) and reptiles (lizards, snakes, and turtles).  The VHS’ Coastal Plains Leopard Frog entry is online at  The “Frog Calling Schedule” is online (as a PDF) at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at  The Coastal Plains Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus utricularius) entry is online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Wildlife Information,” online at  A list of 85 amphibians, including 28 frogs and toads, found in Virginia is online at this link.  The Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) entry is online at

For More Information about Frogs and Other Amphibians

AmphibiaWeb, “Order Anura—Frogs and Toads Species List,” online at  Note that this site uses the older name Rana for the genus Lithobates (as of 3-6-20).

FrogWatch USA, online at  According to this Web site, this is the American Zoological Association (AZA)'s “citizen science program and provides individuals, groups, and families opportunities to learn about wetlands in their communities by reporting on the calls of local frogs and toads.”

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Virginia is for Frogs” Web site, online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Amphibians” subject category.

Following are links to episodes on other frog species in Virginia in the Lithobates genus (the genus that includes the Coastal Plains Leopard Frog).

Episode 74, 8-8-11 – American Bullfrog
Episode 310, 4-4-16 – Green Frog.
Episode 408, 2-19-18 – Frog and toad call medley, including Bullfrog, Carpenter Frog, Green Frog, Pickerel Frog, and Wood Frog.
Episode 509, 1-27-20 – Wood Frog.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
1.5 – animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 – life cycles.
3.4 – behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.6 – ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.1 – understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science, including current applications to reinforce science concepts.
LS.4 – organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 – community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.

Biology Course
BIO.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
BIO.6 – bases for modern classification systems, including structures, biochemistry, and developmental stages.
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.