Lithobates catesbeianusAmerican Bullfrog

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Geographic Range

North American bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus) are only native to the Nearctic region. They are found from Nova Scotia to central Florida, from the East coast to Wisconsin, and across the Great Plains to the Rockies. The natural western limits of this species are now confused due to their introduction into places as far west as California and Mexico. It is known that bullfrogs were introduced to areas of California and Colorado in the early 1900's. The species has also been introduced (accidentally or on purpose) into southern Europe, South America, and Asia.

Habitat

North American bullfrogs must live in water and are therefore usually found near some source of water, such as a lake, pond, river, or bog. Warm, still, shallow waters are preferred. Bullfrogs are becoming increasingly common in areas that have been modified by humans. Increased water temperatures and increased aquatic vegetation, which are common factors of lakes polluted by humans, favor bullfrogs by providing suitable habitats for growth, reproduction, and escape from predators.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

North American bullfrogs are the largest true frog found in North America, weighing up to 0.5 kg and 203 mm in length. Typical length ranges from 90 to 152 mm. Color varies from brownish to shades of green, often with spots or blotches of a darker color about the back. The hind feet are fully webbed. The sex of an adult bullfrog can be easily determined by examining the size of the tympanum (the external ear of the frog) relative to that of the eye. The tympanum is a round circle located on the side of the head near the eye, and in males it is much larger than the eye. In females the tympanum is as large or smaller than the eye. Also, during the breeding season the throat of the male bullfrog is yellow, whereas the female's is white.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range mass
    0.5 (high) kg
    1.10 (high) lb
  • Range length
    460 (high) mm
    18.11 (high) in
  • Average length
    100-175 mm
    in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.0134 W
    AnAge

Development

About four days after fertilization, spotted tadpoles emerge from the floating egg mass. The tadpoles have gills and a tail, which eventually disappears as the tadpole transforms into a froglet. Tadpole development is quite slow; it may take between one to three years to begin transformation from the tadpole stage into the adult stage. Adults reach sexual maturity after an additional two years.

Reproduction

Breeding takes place in May to July in the north, and from February to October in the south. Fertilization is external, with the females depositing as many as 20,000 eggs in a foamy film in quiet, protected waters. Fertilization is usually, but not always, by one male. Tadpoles emerge about four days after fertilization. These tadpoles may remain in the tadpole stage for almost 3 years before transforming into frogs. Adults reach sexual maturity after 3 to 5 years.

  • Breeding interval
    Bullfrogs breed once each year.
  • Breeding season
    May to July in the north and February to October in the south
  • Range number of offspring
    20000 (high)
  • Average time to hatching
    4 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 5 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years

Females provide the eggs with yolk before they are laid. There is no parental involvement in offspring after the eggs are laid. Newly hatched tadpoles can take care of themselves right away.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The average bullfrog lives seven to nine years in the wild. The record lifespan of an animal in captivity is 16 years.

Behavior

North American bullfrogs prefer warm weather and will hibernate during cold weather. A bullfrog may bury itself in mud and construct a small cave-like structure for the winter. Their hunting style is 'sit and wait.' Bullfrogs can wait for a long time for some type of prey to come by, then, with a flash of the tongue, they grab it and bring it back into their mouths. Bullfrogs are active both during the day and at night; they are most active when the weather is moist and warm.

Home Range

Adult males are very aggressive and defend their territories, which can range from 3 to 25 meters of shoreline, by physically wrestling with others.

Communication and Perception

The call of a male bullfrog has a low frequency and can be heard for over one kilometer. The sound is often described as a low rumbling "jug-o-rum". Bullfrogs also have a good sense of vision and sense vibrations. See a video of a bullfrog calling here: http://www.midwestfrogs.com/.

Food Habits

Bullfrogs are predators. They usually eat snakes, worms, insects, crustaceans, frogs, tadpoles, and aquatic eggs of fish, frogs, insects, or salamanders. They are cannibalistic and will not hesitate to eat their own kind. There have also been a few cases reported of bullfrogs eating bats. Bullfrog tadpoles mostly graze on aquatic plants.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • algae

Predation

Humans hunt bullfrogs for frog legs, but they have a limited hunting season in most states. Bullfrogs are also eaten by a wide variety of other animals, depending on the region. These include herons, such as great blue herons and great egrets, turtles, water snakes, raccoons, and belted kingfishers. Most fish are averse to eating bullfrog tadpoles because of their undesirable taste.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

North American bullfrogs help to control insect pests. They are important for medical research because their skeletal, muscle, digestive, and nervous systems are similar to those of other animals. They are often hunted for meat (frog legs).

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Introduced bullfrogs may be driving native frogs to extinction in some areas. Colorado, among many other places, is experiencing problems due to the introduced bullfrog population. Bullfrogs may have been introduced accidentally to trout streams and lakes during the Colorado Divisions of Wildlife fish stocking operations. Bullfrogs occasionally invade fish hatchery ponds and their larvae are caught along with the fishes that are routinely stocked in ponds.

Conservation Status

Bullfrogs do well with changes in the environment that have occured due to human modification, and are becoming increasingly common in areas modified by humans. Bullfrogs have a much higher critical thermal maximum than most other frogs, meaning that they are able to thrive in higher water temperatures. Bullfrogs have a longer breeding season and a higher rate of pre-metamorphic survivorship, which also allows them to be more successful than other frogs. In some areas, such as California, bullfrogs are driving other frog populations to extinction. One possible reason to explain why bullfrogs in California might have an advantage over other species native to that state is that bullfrogs evolved with a diverse predatory fish fauna in eastern North America. In California there have been attempts to control bullfrog populations by introducing new fish species that are their predators. Bullfrogs have evolved mechanisms to avoid predation by fish, such as less palatable eggs and tadpoles, and tadpoles that are not active much of the time, which reduces their exposure to predators. Native frog species of California are also suffering a decline because bullfrogs are efficient predators of frogs and tadpoles.

Other Comments

Bullfrogs are well known for their enormous legs. They are some of the best jumpers in the world and are used in frog racing in some parts of the United States.

Contributors

Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Sandra Bruening (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cynthia Sims Parr (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

freshwater

mainly lives in water that is not salty.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

"Frogging Abounds!!!" 1997. http://www.zoo.utoronto.ca/-natalie/frogpage.html

"Michigan Frogs & Toads." 1997. http://imc.lisd.k12.mi.us/frog/frogs.html

"Representative Species- Canadian Great Lakes Frogs and Toads." 1997. Environment Canada. http://www.cciw.ca/glimr/data.habitat-rehabilitation/hab43a.html.

"Medical Herpetology- The Medical and Economic Importance of Amphibians and Reptiles." . 1997. http://www.worldcorp.com/biodiversity/newsletter/two/herp.htm.

"Frog." 1994. Microsoft Encarta. Computer software. Microsoft.

Conant, Roger. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Hammerson, G. A. 1982. Bull frog eliminating leopard frogs in Colorado? Herpetological Review 13(4): 115-116.

Ryan, M. J. 1980. The reproductive behavior of the bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana). Copeia (1): 108-114.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 2007. "Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)" (On-line). Frogs and Toads of Ohio. Accessed February 21, 2007 at http://www.cmnh.org/site/ResearchandCollections_VertebrateZoology_Research_FamilyRanidae_Bullfrog.aspx.

Govindarajulu, P. 2000. "Survey of Bullfrogs Rana catesbeiana in British Columbia" (On-line). Accessed 1 September 2000 at http://web.uvic.ca/bullfrogs/.

Ravenswood Media, Inc., 2005. "Frog calls . . . an evolving "webumentary"" (On-line). Accessed July 05, 2005 at http://www.midwestfrogs.com/.