Five differences between chorus frogs and leopard frogs

A gentleman called last week because he had heard a sound like someone running a finger along the teeth of a comb in his basement.

He had found and captured a small frog and wanted to bring it to us for the winter.

Frogs usually hibernate for the winter (read about that here), but this one we will keep until spring and then release it into the wild again.

The question is —- what kind of frog is it?

Photo of a chorus frog

Boreal chorus frog

Iowa has 17 species of frogs and toads, including:

  • American toad
  • Blanchard’s cricket frog
  • Boreal chorus frog
  • Cope’s gray treefrog
  • Crawfish frog
  • Eastern gray treefrog
  • Fowler’s toad
  • Great Plains toad
  • Green frog
  • North American bullfrog
  • Northern leopard frog
  • Pickerel frog
  • Plains spadefoot
  • Southern leopard frog
  • Spring peeper
  • Woodhouse’s toad

This frog appears to be a boreal chorus frog (Pseudacris maculata), which is quite different from the common northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) that are seen in northwest Iowa. Here are a few ways you can tell the difference between these two species:

1. Size

The boreal chorus frog is a small frog ranging from 3/4-inch to 1 1/2 inches long, whereas the northern leopard frog is typically 2-3 1/2 inches in length.

2. Coloring

The boreal chorus frog is easily identified by its three dark stripes that extend from the head down the back. It  also has a line that runs through each eye and a white line along the upper lip.

Photo of a chorus frog

Boreal chorus frog

Northern leopard frogs have spots like the animal that they are named after, although there is a subspecies that has no spots, and they also have two sets of lines down their back called dorsolateral folds. The chorus frog has a smooth back.

Photo of a frog

Northern leopard frog


(Read more fast frog facts here.)

3. Call

The boreal chorus frog has a familiar call that is often described as the sound of a finger running along the teeth of a comb. The northern leopard frog has a snore-like sound with a chuck-chuck-chuck sound.

4. Toes

The boreal chorus frog is a tree frog, but not all tree frogs live in trees. Both the chorus frog and leopard frog live in wet areas, grasslands and forest edges. However, the last bone in the toes of tree frogs is shaped like a claw. Boreal chorus frogs have short limbs so they do not climb high and are not as acrobatic as other tree frogs.

5. Legs

Boreal chorus frogs have a long slender body compared to their short legs. Northern leopard frogs have very long hind legs and proportional front legs.

Can’t get enough of frogs? Try this hopping frog origami craft! Click here for directions.


  1. Lyndsey on November 28, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    We just found one of those boreal chorus frogs in our basement in Des Moines. Wheres the best place to put it outside?

    • kiley on November 29, 2018 at 3:21 pm

      If you can find a place where it can dig in leaf litter, compost or soil that is not frozen yet, that is best, so it can burrow down!

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