A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Identifying Red-legged and Yellow-legged Frogs in California


California Frogs and Toads:

observation link


Red-legged Frogs will be found primarily along the coast, and are more common north of the San Francisco Bay due to destruction of their former habitat.

The Foothill Yellow-legged frog occurs with Red-legged Frogs along the north coast, and the central coast. Red-legged frogs have disappeared from the Sierra Nevada foothills and most of Southern California, while the Yellow-legged Frog still occurs in some foothill streams in the Sierras, especially in the north. The Foothill Yellow-legged Frog is no longer found in Southern California, while the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog (which is probably a different species from the Sierra Frogs) hangs on in only a few small locations.

Yellow-legged frogs have yellow on the undersides of the legs, while Red-legged Frogs have red underneath the legs, but it is not always necessary to pick up a frog to identify it.

Red-legged frogs have prominent folds along the side of the body, and a dark mask through the eyes, while Yellow-legged frogs have indistinct folds and no dark mask. Adult Yellow-legged frogs are also smaller - up to 3.5 inches long, while adult Red-legged Frogs get up to about 5 inches in length.

Also, Foothill Yellow-legged Frogs tend to prefer to jump in water and sit on the bottom, relying on their cryptic pattern to hide them, while these other frogs tend to either hop away quickly, or dive into the water and swim away quickly.

There are two very similar types of Red-legged Frogs found in California. The two species meet north of Pt. Arena in Mencocino County with the Northern Red-legged Frog north of there and the California Red-legged Frog to the south.
If you think your frog is a Red-legged Frog, look at the range maps of the two species.

frog frog range map
Northern Red-legged Frog
Rana aurora
Underside Range: Red
frog frog range map
California Red-legged Frog
Rana draytonii

Underside Historic Range: Orange
If you think the frog you are trying to identify iis a Yellow-legged frog, then look at the range maps of the three species below.
The geographic location will help you identify which species of Yellow-legged frog you saw.

The Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog occurs only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog occurs at high elevations in the southern Sierra Nevada and in a few isolated streams of the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto Mountains in southern California.

The Foothill Yellow-legged Frog is found in the foothills of the Sierras at lower elevations than the Mountain Yellow-legged frog, and is no longer found in Southern California.
frog frog range map
Foothill Yellow-legged Frog
Rana boylii

Underside Historic Range: Red
frog frog range map
Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog
Rana sierrae

Underside Historic Range: Red
frog frog range map
Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog
Rana muscosa
  Historic Range: Orange

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