New Frog Species With Weird Croak Found in New York City Area

Posted on March 14, 2012

A new frog species with a weird croak has been discovered in the New York City region. The frog had been mistaken for a southern leopard frog. The two frog species look very much alike, but researchers found through lab analysis that the mitochondrial DNA of the newly discovered frog species was distinct, no matter how much the frogs looked alike. The newly discovered frog lives n the ponds and marshes of Staten Island, mainland New York and New Jersey.

UCLA Professor Brad Shaffer, one of the authors of the paper, says, "For a new species to go unrecognized for all this time in this area is amazing. Many amphibians are secretive and can be very hard to find, but these frogs are pretty obvious, out-there animals. This shows that even in the largest city in the U.S. there are still new and important species waiting to be discovered that could be lost without conservation."

Lead author and evolutionary biologist Cathy Newman was completing her masters at The University of Alabama while working with Leslie Rissler, associate professor of biological sciences at Alabama, on an unrelated study of the southern leopard frog species when Newman first contacted doctoral candidate and co-author Jeremy Feinberg at Rutgers in New Jersey. Newman asked for help on her project, and in return, Feinberg asked the geneticists if they could help investigate some "unusual frogs" whose weird-sounding calls were different from other leopard frogs.

Newman says, "When I first heard these frogs calling, it was so different, I knew something was very off. It's what we call a cryptic species: one species hidden within another because we can't tell them apart on sight. Thanks to molecular genetics, people are really picking out species more and more that would otherwise be ignored."

Shaffer says the discovery shows there are still new discoveries to be made even in densely-populated, well-studied areas. The newly identified frogs appear to have a very limited range, and as the director of UCLA's La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, Shaffer sees an immediate link to conservation.

Shaffer says, "One of the real mantras of conservation biology is that you cannot protect what you don't recognize. If you don't know two species are different, you can't know whether either needs protection."

The research was published here in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

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