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?

a chorus frog in the wateropens IMAGE file

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.

This is a chorus frog in an aquariumopens IMAGE file

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.

a green frog with black spotsopens IMAGE file

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.

Paper plate toad

Toads are such overlooked creatures. They’re a little lumpier and a little drabber than frogs, so they tend to be viewed as not as cute. However, we love toads! So we wanted to make a fun toad craft that you can do at home. You’ll need: A paper plate Crayons or markers Scissors Brown construction Read More »

Read More

Tell apart Iowa toads

Al and Wally, named for conservationist Alfred Wallace, are two Great Plains toads (Anaxyrus cognatus) that live at the Dickinson County Nature Center. Four different toads live in Iowa — Great Plains toad, American toad, Fowler’s toad and Woodhouse’s toad — and they can be difficult to tell apart. Here are a few key ways Read More »

Read More

FREE frog mask template

Did you know tree frogs’ last bone in their toes is shaped like a claw? Have you read about how about frogs’ bodies freeze during the winter and thaw in the spring? Do you know what a group of frogs is called? Click here to find out. Frogs are really interesting creatures, and many people Read More »

Read More

Fast frog facts

The Dickinson County Nature Center frog ambassadors are always a hit with kids when they come out during programs. That is often because they make the programs more exciting when they escape from the grasp of the naturalist with their squirmy, slippery bodies. But visitors also love to see their long legs, ability to jump Read More »

Read More

Make a toad hand puppet

Since we talked today about five facts that will make you love toads (read the blog post here), we decided to make a toad-themed craft. If you look up toad crafts, there are not a lot out there! Like we mentioned in the blog post, toads tend to get overlooked in favor of their more Read More »

Read More

Five facts that will make you like toads

Because frogs are brightly colored, they tend to be looked on with more awe than toads. However, American toads have some pretty neat attributes when you get to know them. They taste bad. American toads are covered in red and yellow wart-looking spots that actually contain glands that secrete poison. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt Read More »

Read More

What is permeable skin? A video experiment

Amphibians have permeable skin, meaning they can absorb oxygen through their skin. However, it also means that chemicals and other harmful things from the environment can also be absorbed. Learn more about permeable and impermeable skin with this science experiment led by environmental education coordinator Bryanna Kuhlman. See more lessons and animal videos here.

Read More

Frogs are the real living dead

The title “living dead” is very Halloween-appropriate. And that’s exactly what northern leopard frogs are in the wintertime. Northern leopard frogs are native to northwest Iowa and are aquatic creatures, meaning they live in the water. Like American bullfrogs, which are not native to northern Iowa, northern leopard frogs will hibernate underwater. (See a video Read More »

Read More


  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!