Hoping for Rain—Southern Leopard Frogs

Usually during this time of year (December), we don’t think about amphibians or reptiles because most are spending the winter hidden to avoid freezing temperatures. However, Southern leopard frogs (Lithobates [Rana] sphenocephala) breed both in Spring and Fall in temporary ponds. As a result, ponds that retain water in late Fall and early Winter in eastern Oklahoma contain tadpoles of Southern leopard frogs. As the ponds shrink in size, the tadpoles become easy prey for herons and other water birds. In addition, as temperatures go down and the ponds shrink, the possibility exists that the ponds might dry up or freeze solid, killing the tadpoles. One such pond at our research site in Le Flore County is now filled with tadpoles and the water is dangerously low. Although it might seem that producing tadpoles when the possibility exists that the ponds might dry up or freeze is not in the best interest of the individual frogs that deposited the eggs, that is actually not the case. These frogs cannot predict whether ponds will last long enough or be refilled. However, one thing is for certain—if they do not breed at all, then there is no possibility that they will produce offspring in the event that ponds do last long enough in a particular year. Also, they can try again in Spring, and if they survive the Summer, yet again the following Fall. So, in effect, they are hedging their bets. Individual frogs that breed in Fall have some chance that they will produce offspring that will survive, whereas individual frogs that do not reproduce in Fall absolutely produce no offspring.

Adult Southern Leopard frog from southeastern Oklahoma

Adult Southern Leopard frog from southeastern Oklahoma

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