For the first time since 1882, New York City has a new frog. Dubbed the Atlantic coast leopard frog, the new species was discovered six years ago in the marshes of Staten Island -- hiding in plain sight not too far from the Statue of Liberty. Their impressive range extends beyond the Big Apple to include wetlands all along the Interstate 95 corridor from Connecticut to North Carolina.
Technically, the frog was first noticed in the New York–New Jersey metropolitan area half a century ago, but these claims were dismissed. “Even though he was clearly on to something, the claim Carl Kauffeld made in his 1937 paper fell short,” says Rutgers University’s Jeremy Feinberg, who made the 2008 discovery. “We had the benefits of genetic testing and bioacoustic analysis that simply weren’t available to Kauffeld to prove that even though this frog might look like the two other leopard frogs in the area, it was actually a third and completely separate species,” he adds in a news release.
Kauffeld died in 1974, and Feinberg and colleagues named the new frog Rana kauffeldi in his honor. The team made an initial announcement in a 2012 paper of an undocumented third frog separate from the northern and southern leopard frogs, R. pipiens and R. sphenocephala. Last week, the team completed their discovery in a PLOS ONE paper, providing the evidence needed to formally name the new frog, as well as descriptions of its distribution, ecology, and conservation status.
They collected measurements from 283 specimens from four Rana species in the U.S. and Canada. They also analyzed their genetics and bioacoustics, which included the length of their mating calls to the numbers of pulses in a call. Based on these, they determined that they had a third species that was separate from the two frogs it was previously confused with. The southern leopard frog, for example, has a distinct “chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck” call. The new frog, Los Angeles Times explains, sounds more like this: “Chuck. (Pause) Chuck. (Pause) Chuck.” You can hear a male’s advertisement call here.
They’re cryptically colored in mint-gray to light olive green, with medium-to-dark spots. They like expansive, open-canopied wetlands -- though centuries of impact to these areas raise some conservation concerns.
Over the last two years, with the help of biologists and frog enthusiasts throughout the east coast, the team confirmed that the range of the new frog spans eight states and several major cities along 780 kilometers (485 miles). Its narrow and largely coastal lowland distribution stretches from central Connecticut to northern New Jersey (based on genetic data) and south to North Carolina (based on bioacoustic data).
The last amphibian described from New York or New England was the Fowler's toad in 1882, and this new frog is only the seventh amphibian described from New York. It just goes to show, new vertebrates can still be found in well-studied, densely populated, and urban places that are rarely associated with undocumented biodiversity.
Images: Brian R. Curry (top) & Brian Zarate (middle) from 2014 Feinberg et al., PLOS ONE