Recovering the Chiricahua Leopard Frog for Generations to Come

If you think you hear snoring near a forest stream or wetland in Arizona or New Mexico in the spring or early summer, chances are you’re actually hearing the call of a Chiricahua leopard frog. These olive to dark green frogs—with their charcoal-colored spots, stocky bodies, and distinctive calls—are an iconic species of our Gila PARCA (Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area) and Cochise PARCAs. They represent the rich and sometimes surprising life that thrives in the wetlands and streams threading through the Southwestern region. Like many amphibians and reptiles in the area, they desperately need our help. 

The Chiricahua leopard frog is one of the hardest hit of the leopard frogs. It once thrived in likely thousands of aquatic sites in the Southwest; today, there are fewer than 80 locations where it’s hanging on. This is due to many factors. The frog needs permanent water to reproduce, and Southwestern riparian areas and wetlands have been compromised by unsustainable livestock grazing, groundwater pumping, and water diversion. Others have been converted into stock ponds for livestock. 

In the remaining healthy wetlands, two of the most problematic invasive species—bullfrogs and crayfish—are severely disrupting the food chain, and invasive grasses contribute to wildfires that can choke streams and wetlands with ash. Plus, a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis threatens, and broader shifts in weather and rain due to climate change spell an uncertain long-term future.

With so many headwinds, recovering the Chiricahua leopard frog is an uphill battle. As such, we are working on every front to secure its future. That starts with habitat. We are restoring wetlands and fixing the hydrology of streams throughout the Gila PARCA and Cochise PARCAs to ensure that there are places for the frogs to live and reproduce and that there is still connectivity between those areas to allow gene flow between populations. 

We are also rolling up our sleeves to fight invasive species. We remove bullfrog egg masses and neuter and release male crayfish to curb their spread. We eliminate invasive wetland plant species, like nonnative cattails, and plant native species in their place. 

Once there is quality habitat, we need to bolster frog populations with more frogs. ARC is working with existing programs, and developing new headstarting projects, meaning that we go out into healthy wetlands and comb them for frog eggs. Those eggs then go to a hatchery, where they hatch and are raised into froglets—past their vulnerable tadpole phase.

Essentially, we are using the amphibian’s reproductive strategy to our advantage: A female frog lays hundreds of eggs, placing an evolutionary bet that a few will make it to adulthood by sheer strength of numbers. By giving the eggs optimal conditions and removing the many predators that would trim down the number of survivors, we end up with a lot more frogs hitting metamorphosis. Those frogs can be released into wetlands in numbers dramatically boosted from what the cycle would yield in the wild. 

Little by little—frog by frog and wetland by wetland—we hope, with your help, to tip the scales for this amphibian so that its snoring call can echo across the region for generations to come.