North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Pickerel Frog

Scientific Name: Rana palustris
Classification: Nongame species
Abundance: Abundant (blue)


Photo by Jodie Owen










The pickerel frog is often mistaken for the closely related southern leopard frog but may be distinguished by more squarish spots that are roughly arranged in two parallel rows (and sometimes merging to form bars or stripes); orange or yellow pigment on the concealed surfaces of the legs; and the absence of a white spot on the tympanum (external eardrum). Unlike the sometimes bright green southern leopard frog, the pickerel frog virtually always has a brown, tan or golden background color. Its belly is usually plain white.

Pickerel frogs occur throughout most of the state, except for some tidewater areas of the outer Coastal Plain. They are most common in the Mountains and Piedmont. Adults are often seen along small streams. They may also travel far from water. Pickerel frogs breed from Febuary to early April. They prefer to breed in ephemeral woodland pools, although they may also use permanent ponds, swamps, ditches and backwaters of streams and rivers. Eggs are deposited in a large, globular mass, usually attached to a submerged stick or stem. The tadpoles resemble those of southern leopard frogs and transform in about 10 to 12 weeks. 

Pickerel frogs produce skin secretions that are toxic to many predators. Many collectors have inadvertently killed other amphibians including toads   by carelessly placing them in a container with a stressed pickerel frog

The pickerel frog is classified as a nongame species with no open season. It is unlawful for any person to take, or have in possession, any nongame mammal or bird unless that person has a collection license or is collecting fewer than 5 reptiles or fewer than 25 amphibians that are not endangered, threatened, or special concerned species.

There are no reported problems with this species. 

Frogs and toads can be monitored fairly easily in a variety of ways. One way is through frog call monitoring. The North Carolina Calling Amphibian Survey Program attempts to do just that by corralling data collected by volunteers across the state that monitors specific frog call routes. Each species of frog and toad has a unique call that is distinguishable from others.  Some are more difficult for humans to separate than others, but the frogs know who’s who!  Learn your frog calls, and you too can distinguish who’s calling in the ponds.  Another way to monitor frogs and toads is by looking for egg masses deposited in wetlands and/or by looking for tadpoles in those same wetlands. Different frogs breed at different times of the year, so when to look for eggs is dependent on the species of interest. Eggs typically hatch within a couple weeks of being deposited, so there is a fairly short window for detection. Frog eggs can sometimes be identified to family, but are somewhat tricky to identify to species level.  Tadpole identification can be similarly tricky, so learning and listening to frog calls is definitely the easiest method for determining what frogs and toads are using a wetland. Tadpoles are a little easier to monitor, as most species have tadpoles present in wetlands for longer periods of time. This is, again, variable by species.  Most species have tadpole stages that last at least several months, but the range in timing for different species is everything from a couple of weeks to several years.  The smaller frog and toad species tend to have shorter tadpole cycles, while the larger frogs and toads tend to have longer times to metamorphosis.