Conservation Corner: Missouri is Bullish on Bullfrogs

By Dan Zarlenga, Missouri Department of Conservation

What if someone asked you what the official state amphibian of Missouri is? Would you be able to answer? Important information to know if you should ever find yourself in a game of Trivial Pursuit, or possibly answering the jackpot question on a TV gameshow.

Turns out the answer is the American bullfrog! The bullfrog can be found all over Missouri, including this area. They’re also our largest frog species, growing up to 6-8 inches long and weighing in at up to a full pound. In fact, bullfrogs are the largest frogs in all of North America!

Bullfrogs are almost always found near water. Common habitats include ponds, marshes, rivers, swamps and creeks. Visit any local park or conservation area with a lake or pond, or a river or stream bank, and with a little effort you’re bound to spot one.

Bullfrogs are green to olive to brown. They have distinct dark brown bars on their hind legs and their bellies are white. Bullfrogs also feature very prominent, large, round discs directly behind and below their bulging eyes. These are external eardrums.

It certainly won’t take much effort to hear bullfrogs with your eardrums. During their mating season from late May to early July, males make their presence known with loud, deep, husky calls. Many people describe the calls as sounding like the phrase “jug-of-rum”. These crooners are croaking to attract females and can be heard a half a mile away.

Bullfrogs will eat just about anything they can get down their mouths. Insects, spiders, crayfish, fish, other amphibians, even some birds and small mammals… none are safe from a hungry bullfrog. Bullfrogs always lay their eggs in fishless ponds though; otherwise the water-living predators would eat the bullfrog young! Once the eggs hatch, the young emerge as long-tailed tadpoles that must live in the water. Tadpoles transform into air-breathing froglets in about 11–14 months, then reach adult size in another 2–3 years.

Bullfrogs are so plentiful that there’s even a hunting season for them. It starts June 30 and goes until October 31. One common way to hunt them is by using a long pole with a trident-looking fork on the end. It’s called gigging, and a popular way to collect frogs for their delicious, meaty legs which are considered a delicacy.

For a bounty of facts on bullfrogs, go to MDC.mo.gov and check out the online field guide. And you’ll be prepared when someone asks you what Missouri’s official state amphibian is.