Recently, the biologists have discovered a new species of the Leopard frog in the New York City.
In the past 30 years, it’s the 2nd frog species found in the continental United States. The researchers told that it remained hidden in plain sight in a city of 8.4 million people.
Jeremy Feinberg, Rutgers University ecologist and part of a group of researchers who made the discovery stated, “It’s a pretty unique event.”
Feinberg and colleagues—including Catherine Newman, Louisiana State University geneticist, Joanna Burger, fellow Rutgers ecologist, Leslie Rissler, University of Alabama biologist and Brad Shaffer biologist of the University of California, Los Angeles—first revealed the existence of the new amphibian two years ago in the Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution journal, National Geographic reported.
As the title of that journal suggests, however, they focused their initial work narrowly on the genetic uniqueness of the then-unnamed frog, which until then was considered a southern leopard frog.
The recent study was published Wednesday in the PLOS ONE journal in which the researchers explain what makes the native New Yorker so unique that it deserves a new species designation: Rana kauffeldi—named after the great herpetologist Carl Kauffeld, who in the mid-20th century contemplated that an as-yet-unidentified leopard frog might reside in New York City.
However, R. kauffeldi’s skin has subtly distinctive spots and its most illuminating characteristic is the mating call of the males. The researchers describe it as a “single-note unpulsed chuck,” unlike the pulsing and snore-like calls of the region’s other leopard frog species.
Feinberg said, those calls are what led the researchers to the new frog. While conducting southern leopard frog field studies, every so often they’d hear the unusual “chuck” sound above the pulses. The researchers eventually realized that the two calls rarely occurred in the same habitat.
Closer examination revealed that R. kauffeldi predominated in open-canopied coastal marshes, “places where you can almost see and smell the ocean,” as well as bottom and floodplains within a few miles of river mouths, Feinberg said.
That they heard mating calls at all was fortunate: R. kauffeldi breeds for just a few weeks each year. Within that brief time their chorus is often drowned, at least to our ears by the sound of spring peepers.
“That helps keep them hidden. You have to win the jackpot to hear them,” Feinberg added.
Call of a Survivor
Since the first description of R. kauffeldi’s two years ago, several people have been listening closely enough to win that jackpot. Most of them reported of hearing the call, extending the species’ range in a coastal ribbon from Connecticut to northeastern North Carolina.
However, most of the newly discovered frog’s habitat, has already been lost to development, especially in the New York City. Likely once found throughout the region, R. kauffeldi is now restricted to the region of Staten Island, where Feinberg first discovered them and where wetland development is an ever-present threat.
Feinberg said, “There’s one population in Staten Island, where all it would take is filling in one pond, and it would be gone.” The remaining habitat of the R. kauffeldi tends to be fragmented, resulting in isolated populations that might lack the genetic diversity necessary for long-term health.
Still, they have stuck around this long, but on a positive note, it seems that R. kauffeldi might be able to defy the chytrid fungal disease that elsewhere has caused an amphibian apocalypse. R. kauffeldi has persisted, even as other leopard frog populations in the region have declined or disappeared, Feinberg said.
Like a true New Yorker, the new leopard frog is a survivor.