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Nature Notes: Grounded

by Alyssa Nyberg

Northern leopard frogs are fast, real fast! They aren’t called leopard frogs for nothin’. They are the long-legged leapers of our Kankakee Sands prairie, and catching one is not only thrilling but hard to do!

Leopard Frog in palm

On a sunny November day, I had the good fortune of finding a northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) on the road, alive and very cold. The bright sunny day must have been inviting enough to bring it onto the pavement for a sunbath, but when the clouds rolled in, this cold-blooded creature found itself without the energy to hop back into the safety of the wetland. It was literally grounded. 

‘Grounded’ can mean very different things. I remember being grounded in high school and that was definitely not a good thing. Yet lately I’ve been thinking about how nice it is when I get those few moments of feeling calm and grounded.

For this leopard frog, being grounded was not a good thing. Not wanting to miss a chance to grab a grounded leopard frog, I leaped to the ground, scooped it right up, and declared that I had caught a leopard frog without having pulled a groin muscle, like so many of my colleagues have done before me. 

Leopard Frog

And there we sat for quite some time until finally, the warmth of my hands revived the leopard frog to the point of being able to wink at me, pee on my hands, and then hop off into the grass. It made its way back to the wetland, where it will spend the winter, hibernating beneath logs and debris in oxygen-rich water.  

Northern leopard frogs are one of the most abundant and least secretive frogs we have at Kankakee Sands. It is the frog you are most likely to see hopping ahead of you in a flash on the trail or bounding across the road, long legs dangling behind when it is airborne. It is a 3-inch frog, bright green to olive green-brown in color with dark leopard-like spots.

A northern leopard frog’s diet consists of insects, spiders, slugs, earthworms, and occasionally other smaller frogs. In turn, the northern leopard frog is part of the diet of birds, snakes, bullfrogs, and small mammals such as the raccoon and opossum. 

The historical range of the northern leopard frog in Indiana was throughout the north, central, and southeast part of the state, in freshwater sites with ample vegetation such as wetlands, marshes, ponds, and moist fields. 

In the spring, we can listen for the quiet, low, slow rattling snore of the leopard frog, much like the sound of dragging your thumb against an inflated balloon. Its call is often overpowered by the other frogs calling, so can be hard to hear. 

Leopard Frog in the water

And this November, we can give thanks for leopard frogs and the natural places that have kept us grounded through the pandemic and have given us a safe place to stretch our legs, our minds, and our spirits.

Spending time with nature either indoors with books, photos, or documentaries and/or outside in the fresh air can do wonders for us. Winter can admittedly be a challenging time to motivate oneself to get outside, but even a small spell in the fresh air can do wonders for your psyche.

Virtual nature can be fun, too. Join our Nature Conservancy staff for free, family-friendly hour-long webinars to get your nature fix this fall. Visit the Nature Conservancy website at www.nature.org/indianaTV to find out more about upcoming webinars. You won’t pull a groin muscle by tuning in, nor will you get frog pee on your hands. Now that’s a win-win! 

Looking forward to seeing you on the webinar and out at Kankakee Sands this November!

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The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.

Photo credits: Frog in hand by Alyssa Nyberg / TNC. Frog in the water by Dr. Robert Brodman at Kankakee Sands.