Articles about amphibian and reptile captive husbandry Frequently asked questions about amphibian and reptile pets Amphibian and reptile photographs Amphibian books for sale Links and resources Home

Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens and R. utricularia)


(Photo by Jeff LeClere)

Introduction: Leopard frogs are one of the most familiar frogs in the United States. More than ten Rana species are called by the common name leopard frog, some of which have large ranges, while others are confined to small isolated areas. Most often, the northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) and southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala) are kept in captivity. They are occasionally offered for sale in the reptile department of pet stores, but are more often encountered in the fish department as tadpoles. Both belong to the family Ranidae and have the traditional “true frog" body structure, with powerful hind legs, a streamlined body, and slightly angular head. Both also have black spots on their dorsal side, hence the common name leopard frog. The background color behind the black spots ranges from a bright grass green, to a dull tan or brown depending on species. The ventral side is white in color and lacks pattern. As adults, leopard frogs range in size from 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 cm) Females are often larger than males. All leopard frogs are semi-aquatic and are rarely found far from water. They are skittish and jumpy frogs, both in captivity and the wild, and use their powerful hind legs to jump considerable distances when frightened.

Cage: Leopard frogs require a large amount of room to comfortably live in captivity. A standard 20 gallon aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 16 inches high (61 cm by 30 cm by 40 cm) is large enough for one or two adult frogf, but it's advantageous to provide more room. Young frogs can be kept in smaller enclosures. A secure screen cover is essential to prevent escapes.

Leopard frogs are semi-aquatic and should be provided with both a land area and large water area. There are many ways to create semi-aquatic environments for captive amphibians. One of the easiest ways is to use a deep water dish. Small cat litter trays and plastic storage containers often work well. Pond rocks should be stacked towards one end of the water dish to provide easy access in and out of the water, as well as to create varying water depths. Aquatic plants can be positioned in the water dish as well to provide shelter. The land section can be filled with a safe soil substrate such as coconut husk fiber (bed-a-beast, forest bed, eco earth, etc.). Do not use small pea gravel on the land area or the frog may accidentally ingest somet. Driftwood, cork bark, fake plants, and rocks can be positioned on the land area to provide shelter and hiding areas. When this type of setup is used, the water dish will require frequent changing because of the small volume of water.

Another way to create a semi-aquatic habitat for leopard frogs is to create a small shoreline setup. In this method, medium to large grade gravel can be used. Most of it can be pushed to one side to form a land area, leaving the other half of the aquarium with a thin layer of gravel. The slope between the two sides should be gradual. It may helpful to place pieces of slate or river rocks alongside the slope to help hold its form. Once the rocks are in position, the aquarium can be filled with enough water so that the water line is slightly below the land area. All exposed gravel on the land section should be covered with large river rocks, sheet moss, soil, or a combination to prevent the gravel from being ingested during feedings. Live or fake plants can be used in both the water and land area as shelter along with driftwood, cork bark, and rocks. In this type of semi-aquatic setup it is often helpful to use a small submersible power filter. In large setups a canister filter can be used instead. The output of all filters should be deflected with a rock to prevent a large current from being formed. Water changes should be performed weekly or bi-weekly, with around half of the water being removed at a time. It may be helpful to use an aquarium vacuum to suck out the waste that gets caught in the gravel on the water side. It’s also recommended that water tests be done regularly in this style of semi-aquatic setup.

There are many other ways to make semi-aquatic setups but some of them are not suitable for keeping leopard frogs in. Make sure that if small gravel is used on the land area that it is covered with large rocks, sheet moss, or soil so that it can not be swallowed by the frogs. If a large float is created using cork bark or plastic make sure that the frogs can not get stuck beneath it and drown. Do not use the plastic "Surf Frog" or "Grow-a-frog" kits. They are not a healthy environment for leopard frogs to live in.

It is important to put a terrarium or aquarium background on the sides and the back of the cage to prevent the frog from trying to jump through the glass. If tap water is used in the tank it should be treated with tap water conditioner to remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals. Bottled spring water can be used instead of treated tap water.

Temperature: Although different species of leopard frogs experience different temperatures, most are fairly tolerant of a wide-range and will do fine when kept between 60°F and 80°F (16°C and 27°C) for most of the year. Submersible aquarium heaters can be used to heat the water if needed, and a low wattage incandescent light bulb can be positioned over the land side on cool days to create a temporary warm area if desired.

Food: Leopard frogs usually have a good appetite and will accept the standard variety of commercially available feeders. The majority of their diet should consist of live crickets. In addition to crickets, earth worms, wax worms, small night crawlers, silk worms, and roaches can be offered instead of crickets every few feedings. In addition to the invertebrates mentioned above, some leopard frogs will accept aquatic food items such as ghost shrimp and feeder guppies. Feeding anywhere from two to six food items per frog two to three times a week usually works well for adults. Juvenile leopard frogs should be fed more often. High quality vitamin and mineral supplements should be coated onto their food every two to four feedings for adults, and more often for juveniles.

Last Updated 06.13.05

Online Resources
Frogs Of Nova Scotia - Northern Leopard Frog
Leopard Frog Care Sheet By Frogland
Northern Leopard Frogs as Pets
Rana pipiens Fact Sheet
University Of Michigan - Leopard Frogs
USGS - Northern Leopard Frog