John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Researchers are issuing a "call to arms" to frog enthusiasts to find this critter in their cities, too.
Any "frog enthusiasts" worth their salt better listen hard: Researchers have discovered a new species flopping about on Staten Island, and they want your help in locating its buddies up and down the East Coast.
The hopper in question is the world's nineteenth identified species of leopard frog—spotted, moist-skinned creatures that enjoy eating "just about anything they can fit in their mouths," including each other. Carl Kauffeld, once the director of the Staten Island Zoo, postulated on the existence of this particular amphibian in 1937. But his theory was never accepted because the frog resembles a couple other species.
But a Rutgers team has finally validated poor ol' Kauffeld's prescient beliefs. They plucked a spotted frog from Staten Island and subjected it to rigorous tests, and its molecules and mating calls indeed signal a genetically unique class of animal. They named it Rana kauffeldi in honor of its discoverer. "We wanted to acknowledge his work and give credit where we believe it was due," says doctoral candidate Jeremy Feinberg, "even though it was nearly 80 years after the fact."
That this animal has managed to fly under the radar for so long is incredible, the researchers say in a study in PLOS ONE:
This is one of the largest human population centers on earth and a region where endemic vertebrate species are rare. The long-term concealment and recent discovery of a novel anuran here is both surprising and biogeographically significant, and illustrates how new species can occur almost anywhere. It also raises potentially important conservation concerns: amphibians can be sensitive to disease, contaminants, and environmental perturbations, and their low vagility can be particularly problematic in fragmented and urban landscapes.
The frog is thought to live in a narrow, coastal band stretching from Connecticut to North Carolina, though perhaps not for much longer due to the pace of development and habitat loss. So Rutgers wants to investigate the its population health via crowdsourcing:
The news [of the frog], Feinberg said, became a call to arms to biologists, hobbyists and frog enthusiasts from Massachusetts to Virginia to go out, look, and listen in order to determine if the new frog—mint-gray to light olive green with medium to dark spots—could be found beyond the New York metropolitan area.
Over the past two years, many frog lovers, including some involved with the North American Amphibian Monitoring Project—a government project that observes frog habitats to determine if populations are declining—have provided crucial information about where the frogs are living, what they look like, and how they sound. One volunteer, in fact, noticed the new species' unusual and distinct 'chuck' call, and provided information that ultimately helped confirm populations of the new species in both Virginia and North Carolina.