Chiricahua leopard frog Lithobates chiricahuensis
ESA status: threatened

Chiricahua leopard frog pc Jim Rorabaugh

Nighttime in the White Mountains of Arizona, and the sound of heavy snoring echoes down a sluggish stream. But there are no sleeping campers here; this is the sound of an imperiled male Chiricahua leopard frog, calling for a mate. Despite many challenges to its survival, the Chiricahua leopard frog is lucky. In a world where frogs are rapidly disappearing, this frog is one of eight listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Chiricahua leopard frog is typically green with namesake dark, leopard-like patterning and golden eyes. They are stocky animals that can grow up to 4.3 inches long, and are most active at night. For successful reproduction, these frogs need permanent water 15 to 35 cm deep. They lay their eggs in masses near the shore on vegetation growing close to the water’s surface. After metamorphosis, the frogs eat an array of invertebrates and small vertebrates.

The Chiricahua leopard frog historically occurred in cienegas, lakes, ponds and riparian zones at elevations between 3,281 to 8,890 feet in central and southeastern Arizona, west-central and southwestern New Mexico, and the sky islands and Sierra Madre Occidental of northeastern Sonora and western Chihuahua, Mexico. But it has now vanished from over 80 percent of its former habitat in Arizona. Although less is known about the New Mexico population, the frog appears to have disappeared from over 80 percent of its habitat in that state, as well.

Most of the southwestern streams the Chiricahua leopard frog calls home have shrunken or disappeared. Groundwater pumping, damming, and water diversion have dried up streams and interrupted pool creation. Cattle destroy vegetation, trample banks, and pollute water with silt and droppings. Some leopard frogs, particularly males, will travel long distances (more than two miles) along connected riparian habitat in search of food or mates, highlighting the importance of habitat corridors for this species. But now their routes are dry or home to dangerous introduced predators and competitors such as bullfrogs, game fish, and crayfish, leaving the frogs stranded in isolated pockets. Weakened by stresses like pollution, pesticides, and increased UV radiation, the species is being devastated by chytrid fungus, which is killing frogs worldwide and is linked to global warming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Chiricahua leopard frog as a "threatened" species in 2002. Listing prompted numerous efforts to protect and restore habitat for the frog and control exotic species on both public and private land. Although the species has continued to decline in New Mexico, populations and occupied sites have increased in Arizona since 2002. Designation of critical habitat, as required under the ESA, will help ensure long-term recovery of the Chiricahua leopard frog. Protecting the frog and its habitat will provide for a safer, healthier environment for both frogs and people. And that’s nothing to snore at.

Hear the call of the Chiricahua leopard frog here.

photo credit: Jim Rorabaugh, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
audio credit: Gary Nafis, CaliforniaHerps.com