Chiricahua Leopard Frog

CLF 1The Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis) is a small (50 – 135 mm) frog in the ranid family Ranidae native to the central and southern Arizona and New Mexico, and northern Sonora, Mexico. They are known to occur across a wide range of habitats and elevations (from 1,060 - 2,450 m) in streams, lakes, and stock ponds. In Arizona, two disjunct distributions exist, one along the Mogollon Rim with generally higher elevation populations, and another just north of the Arizona-Mexico border with generally mid-elevation populations.

The Chiricahua leopard frog was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2002 due to a combination of aquatic habitat loss, increasing non-native species presence, and spreading of disease. Habitat fragmentation and increased groundwater pumping have decreased suitable habitat and reduced dispersal potential. Invasive species such as introduced fishes, bullfrogs, and crayfish are major predators of both larval and adult leopard frogs. Lastly, the chitrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) has become ubiquitous through the species’ range and can lead to mass mortality events in adult frog populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defined critical habitat and intensified eight recovery units across the species’ range in 2012. County conservation lands fall within the defined recovery units one and two. Populations within each recovery unit are managed as larger metapopulations, with management actions implemented at landscape scales to benefit all occupied sites.

CLF 2Pima County is working collaboratively with the Arizona Game and Fish Ranid Frogs Project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Arizona to actively manage two populations of Chiricahua leopard frogs on the County’s Sands and Clyne Ranches. These populations play an important role in the larger managed metapopulation on the Sonoita Plain (recovery unit two), which includes other habitat features on U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and private lands. These efforts include constructing and maintaining habitat features that are suitable for Chiricahua leopard frogs as well as actively removing non-native predator species such as bullfrogs. Additionally, annual surveys of other water features on County conservation lands have the potential to detect newly established populations.

Photos by Jim Rorabaugh / USFWS

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