Rana virgatipes
Carpenter Frog
Subgenus: Aquarana
family: Ranidae
Taxonomic Notes: This species was placed in the genus Lithobates by Frost et al. (2006). However, Yuan et al. (2016, Systematic Biology, doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syw055) showed that this action created problems of paraphyly in other genera. Yuan et al. (2016) recognized subgenera within Rana for the major traditional species groups, with Lithobates used as the subgenus for the Rana palmipes group. AmphibiaWeb recommends the optional use of these subgenera to refer to these major species groups, with names written as Rana (Aquarana) catesbeiana, for example.

© 2013 Don Filipiak (1 of 11)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Least Concern (LC)
NatureServe Status Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.


bookcover The following account is modified from Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo (©2005 by the Regents of the University of California), used with permission of University of California Press. The book is available from UC Press.

Rana virgatipes Cope, 1891
Carpenter Frog

Joseph C. Mitchell1

1. Historical versus Current Distribution. The historical range of carpenter frogs (Rana virgatipes) is unknown. Current distribution is in the Atlantic Coastal Plain from southern New Jersey to southeastern Georgia and two counties in northeastern Florida (Gosner and Black, 1968; Christman et al., 1979a; Ashton and Ashton, 1988; Conant and Collins, 1998).

2. Historical versus Current Abundance. These frogs may be common locally in some areas, but most populations consists of small numbers of individuals (personal observations).

3. Life History Features. The life history and ecology of this species were summarized by Wright (1932), Wright and Wright (1949) and Standaert (1967).

A. Breeding. Breeding is aquatic.

i. Breeding migrations. Breeding migrations do not occur because adults live in the breeding ponds. Initiation of the calling period in Virginia occurs in April, but I have heard calls in March during warm spells. Calling season in New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina is late April to early August (Given, 1987; Mitchell, 1998; personal observations). Males call from open water usually while sitting on aquatic vegetation. They have a prolonged breeding season, generally May–July. Depending on the breeding site (Given, 1988a), males call on 4–94 nights of the generally 3-mo breeding period (Given, 1988b). Observations of ampletant pairs are rare, but have been observed from 26 April–27 July in New Jersey (Given, 1988b).

ii. Breeding habitat. Carpenter frogs breed in permanent, low to high acidity sphagnum ponds, beaver ponds, freshwater marshes, interdunal cypress swales, and pocosins (Wright, 1932; Wright and Wright, 1949; Mitchell, 1998, personal observations; Zampella and Bunnell, 2000). Number of submerged stems is positively correlated with the number of calling sites (Given, 1988b), indicating that vegetation structure of wetlands is an important component of breeding habitats.

B. Eggs.

i. Egg deposition sites. Eggs are laid in small masses attached to vegetation slightly submerged below the water's surface (Livezey and Wright, 1947). Carpenter frog embryos tolerate more strongly acidic water than most eastern temperate zone frogs. Successful hatching occurs as low as pH 3.8, but that concentration produces some abnormal development (Gosner and Black, 1957b).

ii. Clutch size. The number of eggs/mass is 200–600 (Wright, 1932; Livezey and Wright, 1947).

C. Larvae/Metamorphosis. The extended larval period lasts about 1 yr, and tadpoles overwinter in breeding ponds. Newly metamorphosed animals emerge in August–September from larvae hatched from eggs laid the previous summer. Size at metamorphosis was reported to be 23–31 mm SVL in Georgia (Wright, 1932) and 28–36 mm SVL in New Jersey (Standaert, 1967).

D. Juvenile Habitat. Apparently similar to that of adults. Juveniles are not known to disperse from breeding sites, and this size class is caught frequently in aquatic habitats (unpublished data).

E. Adult Habitat. Adults do not venture far from water and apparently remain in wetlands in all seasons. Buhlmann et al. (1994) found only three carpenter frogs in pitfall traps in upland habitats during a 6-mo trapping period in southeastern Virginia, suggesting that few move overland.

F. Home Range Size. Unknown.

G. Territories. Male carpenter frogs are territorial and use physical interactions and vocalizations to defend territories (Given, 1987). Territory size is 0.5–6.5 m in diameter (Given, 1988b). Larger males are aggressive to smaller males and exclude them from territories. Males exhibit high site fidelity to their territories.

H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Unknown.

I. Seasonal Migrations. Carpenter frogs apparently do not migrate. Standaert (1967) noted that several adults moved from a large breeding pond to a series of smaller ponds nearby, where they overwintered.

J. Torpor (Hibernation). Overwintering sites are under water, usually in permanent breeding ponds.

K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Carpenter frogs are sympatric with northern cricket frogs (Acris crepitans), southern cricket frogs (Acris gryllus), American toads (Bufo americanus), Fowler's toads (Bufo fowleri), southern toads (Bufo terrestris), narrow-mouthed toads (Gastrophryne carolinensis), Pine Barrens treefrogs (Hyla andersonii), Cope's gray treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis), eastern gray treefrogs (Hyla versicolor), spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), green frogs (Rana clamitans), pickerel frogs (Rana palustris), and southern leopard frogs (Rana sphenocephala; Gosner and Black, 1957b; Given, 1987; Buhlmann et al., 1994; Bunnell and Zampella, 1999; Mitchell, 1998).

L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. The smallest mature male carpenter frog reported was 39 mm SVL, 1 yr following metamorphosis (Standeart, 1967; Given, 1988b). Males ≥ 47 mm SVL are mature. Corresponding data for females are not available.

M. Longevity. This species has lived as long as 6 yr, 2 mo in captivity (Snider and Bowler, 1992). Standeart (1967) and Given (1988a) noted that few adults marked in 1 yr were recaptured in subsequent years and suggested that adults in nature live ≤ 3 yr following metamorphosis.

N. Feeding Behavior. The diet of carpenter frogs has not been published.

O. Predators. Known snake predators are banded water snakes (Nerodia fasciata) and northern water snakes (N. sipedon; Wright, 1932; Kauffeld, 1957; Gosner and Black, 1968; Palmer and Braswell, 1995). American bullfrogs are usually absent where carpenter frogs are found (Zampella and Bunnell, 2000) or they only occur in small numbers (personal observations), suggesting that this predator may influence carpenter frog distribution and abundance.

P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Unknown.

Q. Diseases. Unknown.

R. Parasites. Unknown.

4. Conservation. Carpenter frogs are listed as a Species of Special Concern in Virginia due to the low number of locations within the state (Levell, 1997; Mitchell and Reay, 1999). Ecologically, this species is one of the poorest known ranid frogs.

1Joseph C. Mitchell
Department of Biology
University of Richmond
Richmond, Virginia 23173

Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.

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