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Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program Balancing Resource Use and Conservation

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Lowland Leopard Frog

      (Rana=Lithobates yavapaiensis)

Lowland Leopard Frog at Bill Williams River in February 2012 - AZGFD - Taylor CottenLowland Leopard frog - AZGFD - C.S. PainterLowland Leopard frog - Photo by Reclamation
  • DESCRIPTION
  • DISTRIBUTION
  • HABITAT
  • CONSERVATION
  • MULTIMEDIA

General Description

Lowland leopard frog or Lithobates yavapaiensis (aka Rana yavapaiensis) is also known as San Felipe leopard frog and the Yavapai leopard frog. The lowland leopard frog adults are 1 4/5 to 3 2/5 inches long from snout to vent (4.6 to 8.6 cm). Males grow up to 2.8 inches (7.2 cm). The frog is tan, brown, and light green to bright green above and has large dark spots on its back. Typically there are no spots on the head in front of the eyes. It is yellowish below, including the groin and often on the underside of the legs. Older frogs sometimes have dark throat markings. Lowland leopard frog individuals can live up to 3 years. Survivorship of adults and juveniles appear to be high in the spring and summer and lower in the fall and winter.

Legal Status

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have listed the lowland leopard frog as a sensitive species. The lowland leopard frog is listed as a species of concern in Arizona. The lowland leopard frog is presumed to be extirpated from California. Natureserve ranks the status of the lowland leopard frog as apparently secure in the state of Arizona, presumed extinct from California, and critically imperiled in New Mexico.

Taxonomy

The lowland leopard frog was formally described in 1984, and previously grouped with the Rana pipiens complex. In 2006, the North American frogs of the family Ranidae were divided into two genera, Lithobates and Rana. Rana is still used in most existing references. The lowland leopard frog is morphologically most similar to the relict leopard frog (Lithobates onca).

Reproduction

Lowland leopard frogs breed from January to April, possibly with two annual breeding cycles. Breeding habitat is typically in irrigation sloughs, rivers, permanent streams, pools in intermittent streams, springs, and beaver ponds. Males call to attract females, and reproduction is external with egg masses being laid near the water surface. Eggs typically hatch in 15 to 18 days. Tadpoles metamorphose their first year in 3 to 4 months, or may overwinter and transform in as long as 9 months.

Diet

Adults eat arthropods and other invertebrates (e.g., snails, spiders, and insects). Larvae are herbivorous and eat algae, organic debris, plant tissue, and minute organisms in water. Larvae have been found feeding on filamentous algae (Cladophora) mats and the organisms within them.

Threats

The lowland leopard frog is extirpated from more than 50% of its historical range and is believed to be extirpated from the LCR due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and introduction of nonnative species. Habitat has been lost due to conversion of desert habitat to agriculture, creation of large reservoirs that flooded historic habitat, and draining of wetlands. Nonnative species establishment, in particular predatory fish, crayfish, and American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), in historical lowland leopard frog habitat, has been a major factor in the decline of the species. The likely cause for the disappearance of Lithobates yavapaiensis in the LCR is due to the success of the American bullfrog and non-native fishes. Predatory fishes, American bullfrogs, and crayfish block potential dispersal corridors between available aquatic habitats.

More Information

Additional information on this species, as well as source documentation, can be found in the species accounts located at this link (PDF). Technical Reports on this species can be found here.

Updated December 18, 2017

Lowland leopard frog populations were historically distributed along the lower Colorado River and tributaries in Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, northern Sonora, and extreme northeast Baja California, Mexico, and from low elevation sites in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, and downstream to near the mouth of the Colorado River in Mexico.  It was historically present along the lower Colorado River and in its natural overflow lakes and tributary streams. Observations indicate that the lowland leopard frog initially expanded its range in the Imperial Valley and along the Colorado River with the development of large-scale irrigated agriculture during the early part of the 20th century. With the introduction of the American bullfrog this expansion appeares to have been reversed.

Along the LCR, the lowland leopard frog inhabited slack water aquatic habitats dominated by bulrushes, cattails, and riparian grasses near or under an over story of cottonwoods and willows. Lowland leopard frogs were also observed in canals, roadside ditches, and ponds in the Imperial Valley as desert lands were converted to agriculture.

The lowland leopard frog occurs in the southern half of Arizona as well as adjacent parts of Sonora, Mexico, and remains well represented in interior Arizona, south and west of the Mogollon Rim. Eighty percent of extant lowland leopard frog habitat is located in the Gila River drainage. Recent surveys in California failed to detect Rana yavapaiensis; therefore, it is believed to be extirpated from California.

 

Lowland leopard frogs occur in ponds and stream pools along water systems in desert grasslands to pinyon juniper. They occur at elevations ranging from sea level to over 1 mile (1817 m). They are habitat generalists and breed in rivers, permanent streams, permanent pools in intermittent streams, beaver ponds, wetlands, springs, earthen cattle tanks, livestock drinkers, irrigation sloughs, wells, mine adits, and abandoned swimming pools. They have been detected occupying open water channels, higher elevation bedrock seeps, and an open cattle pond/spring in the Bill Williams Basin. They have been documented using filamentous algae (Cladophora sp.) mats for concealment. Habitat heterogeneity in the aquatic and terrestrial environment appears to be an important factor for the lowland leopard frog. Shallow water and emergent and perimeter vegetation likely provide basking habitat. Deep water, root masses, undercut banks, and debris piles provide refuge from predators and potential places to hibernate. Juveniles are more frequently associated with small pools and marshy areas while adults are more frequently associated with large pools. Large pools are necessary for adult survival and reproductive efforts. Small pools and marshy habitats probably enhance juvenile survival. In semi-permanent aquatic systems, lowland leopard frogs may survive the loss of water by retreating into deep mud cracks, mammal burrows, or rock fissures. Riparian over story include cottonwoods, willows, Baccharis, mesquite, and saltcedar. Marsh habitats include three-square rushes, spike rushes, narrow-leafed cattails, and pondweed.

 

LCR MSCP Conservation Measures

The Habitat Conservation Plan provides conservation measures specific to each species. Listed below are the species specific conservation measures for the lowland leopard frog. Click on the arrows to expand the table.

LLFR1—Conduct research to better define the distribution, habitat requirements, and factors that are limiting the distribution of the lowland leopard frog

Develop and implement a multiyear integrated research program to determine the range, status, habitat requirements, population biology, factors that currently limit lowland leopard frog abundance and distribution, and factors that have contributed to the decline of the species in the LCR MSCP planning area.

LLFR2—Protect existing unprotected occupied lowland leopard frog habitat

Based on results of research conducted under conservation measures LLFRO1 and within funding constraints of the LCR MSCP, protect existing unprotected occupied lowland leopard frog habitat that is located through the research program.

LLFR3—Conduct research to determine feasibility of establishing the lowland leopard frog in unoccupied habitat

Conduct research necessary to determine the feasibility for successfully establishing the lowland leopard frog in unoccupied habitat. If feasible, implement a pilot introduction into unoccupied habitat, and monitor the success of methods and establishment of the lowland leopard frog in unoccupied habitat.


Research and Monitoring Activities

The LCR MSCP conducts a variety of research and monitoring activities along the LCR encompassing both MSCP and non-MSCP species. For a complete list of all activities, please see the Research and Monitoring Activities web page.

 

 

This gallery includes photos of this species. If you require larger photos, please contact our webmaster Michelle Reilly at mreilly@usbr.gov.

Lowland leopard frog in Graham county, AZ - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - C. W. Painter Potential lowland leopard frog habitat at the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge during 2011 surveys - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Potential lowland leopard frog habitat at the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge during 2011 surveys - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Larval funnel trap used for surveys of lowland leopard frogs in potential habitat at the the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Field survey for lowland leopard frogs in potential habitat at the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Lowland Leopard Frog at the Bill Williams River in February 2012 - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Lowland Leopard Frog at the Bill Williams River in February 2012 - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Lowland Leopard Frog egg mass at the Bill Williams River in February 2012 - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Lowland Leopard Frogs at the Bill Williams River in February 2012 - Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department - Taylor Cotten Lowland Leopard Frog, April 2012 - Photo by Reclamation Lowland Leopard Frog, April 2012 - Photo by Reclamation