March 15, 2012
New Frog Species Discovered In New York City
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
New York City has many mysteries, however this latest has scientists scratching their heads. How did an entire species of frog - in one of the nation´s most crowded and oldest cities - go undiscovered for as long as it did?
In 2009, Jeremy A. Feinberg, a doctoral candidate in ecology and evolution at Rutgers University, heard a strange single croak as he was listening for the multiple croaks of the southern leopard frog in mating season.
“I started hearing these calls, and I realized they were really distinct,” Feinberg told Lisa W. Foderaro of the New York Times.
Three years later, Feinberg and four other scientists are confident in making their declaration of a new, still unnamed, species of leopard frog that can call itself a native New Yorker.
The frogs are currently found in Staten Island, mainland New York, and New Jersey, sometimes in sight of the Statue of Liberty.
By analyzing their current range of habitats the scientists believe they would have lived all over New York, with the center of their population at the Yankees Stadium on the Bronx, to the north of Manhattan itself.
The find is surprising in how it was able to hide in plain sight for so long in one of the most populated centers in the world and it illustrates the power of genetic testing to differentiate animals that may be nearly identical in appearance, but are, in fact, of different species.
“Here is a brand-new species, and it´s not a species of bacteria or a barely visible insect,” H. Bradley Shaffer, a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California at Los Angeles, told Foderaro.
“It´s a big amphibian, and kids have probably been catching and playing with it for years,” he said. “Even in an urban center like New York, where herpetologists have tromped all over for a century or more, there can be new species out there. That shows the importance of urban areas in terms of conservation and biodiversity.”
“This shows that even in the largest city in the US there are still new and important species waiting to be discovered that could be lost without conservation.”
As the lead author on a second paper that is to explore the physical characteristics and call of the new frog, Feinberg will have the honor of naming rights, choosing a scientific and common name. For now he´s not giving any hints.
“I´ve given it lots of thought,” he said. “Part of me has always wanted to call these New York leopard frogs, but I think people in New Jersey and Connecticut will protest. I have to balance the politics with the naming.”
The researchers' study has been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
Image 2 (below): The new frog's range in New York and New Jersey is likely much smaller than it once was. Credit: Cathy Newman et al.