Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

October 26, 2009

Leap’n Leopards

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:53 pm

Take a look at this passage from a research paper on Leopard Frogs (published in Brain Behav. Evol. 2004; Saltzman, Zacharatos, & Gruberg). Please read carefully – there will be a quiz.

“When given a choice between one large aperture…and three apertures of smaller but equal diameter they (Leopard Frogs) choose the larger diameter aperture …at a frequency that is statistically greater than chance.  In only 1 of 255 attempts was there a jump to the overhead cover that was not directed at an aperture.”

In other words, Leopard Frogs can aim. They may not have the need to jump through holes in nature, but the test proves that they are excellent judges of both distance and vertical space. This experiment simply verifies the well known  fact that frogs look before they leap. In this case, the amphibians consistently chose the larger hole as the most promising escape route. O.K., this is not an earth-shattering revelation but one worthy of consideration.  I recently took a video which essentially proves the same point as the above quoted experiment, but in a direct visual manner. Take a look at it here and we’ll talk about it.

Yes, you just saw a sequence showing a Leopard Frog deliberately, and expertly, ascending and descending a set of stairs. There were five steps in all. Each level rose 6 inches but they all were easily and quickly cleared. Each was also composed of unforgiving concrete – a missed step or faulty leap would have resulted in some skinned spots and some head trauma.

As if that wasn’t enough, you also may have noticed that the speckled creature carefully assessed the possibility of jumping the low brick wall that it encountered at the top of the steps. It viewed the situation  multiple times from multiple positions in order to get a good fix on the exact location of the lofty top edge of the wall in question (which is “only” about four feet high). You can see the internal head gears working as the jumper considers his next move. Deciding that such a leap was out of Leopard Frog faith limits, he turned and gracefully descended the steps and continued out across the grass toward the marsh. All in all, this was a great demonstration of frog smarts.

All of this, however,  might easily beg the question as to why this frog was jumping steps in the first place. Perhaps, you might ponder, I put him up to it just to get a cute video or that the frog was exhibiting stupidity rather than intelligence. Well, first of all, let me tell you that I didn’t put him up to it. If I was was going to set up a cute frog shot then perhaps a gambling scene with the frog shuffling tiny cards at a tiny table would have been worth it. No, I spotted the creature hopping through the grass and ran out to take his portrait  (see above). A few minutes later he was at the base of the steps and started climbing them before I could even get the “film rolling.” He took no direction or prompting from me.   Now, the stupidity thing – what about that?

Leopard Frogs, distinguished by there distinctive random spotting, are  among the most terrestrial of frogs. They spend more time in the wet grass of meadows and backyards than they do in ponds and marshes. Called “Meadow Frogs” by some because of this behavior trait, Leopards have been known to travel great distances from open water in search of insects, worms, and small invertebrates to eat (instead of walking a mile for a Camel they hop a mile for a Camelback Cricket!). During the fall, they characteristically make small overland migrations to select overwintering sites as the late fall season encroaches . This stair-stepping frog, therefore, was merely acting out its normal exploratory tendencies while on the way to a winter vacation spot.

Leopards are world class jumpers. One might even say they touch the realm of superpower in this regard. They are able to jump 13 times their body length in a single bound – a skill even Superman would envy. Heck, a super frog could eat a Spiderman for lunch. Leopard Frogs are destined for a simple earthly existence, however. They can’t leap small brick buildings in a single bound but they are able to take life one concrete step at a time.


  1. Well this answers a question I had. I wondered what type of frog I could find in my front garden a distance from the pond in the back and what a jumper it was. Too fast for me to get a good id. I wonder if it was a leopard frog. Great video…Michelle

    Comment by ramblingwoods — October 26, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

  2. I think it all has to do with running math algorithms… based on how my cat jumps six feet onto the bookcase! P.S. Leopard frogs are cute as is.

    Comment by Monica the Garden Faerie — October 27, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

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