According to Forbes magazine, with a symbolic nod to its North American heritage, the first specimen was found on Staten Island, near the Statue of Liberty, under a red maple tree. It’s only the second novel species to be discovered in the US or Canada since 1986.
America’s newest amphibian has mint-green to olive-colored skin with spots, making it a type of leopard frog, and has been given the scientific name Rana kauffeldi in honour of naturalist Carl Kauffeld, a former director of the Staten Island Zoo whose suggestion of a new species in 1936 was dismissed by fellow scientists.
Researchers led by ecologist Jeremy Feinberg of Rutgers University, New Jersey, have now corrected that oversight. Their report is titled ‘Cryptic Diversity in Metropolis: Confirmation of a New Leopard Frog Species (Anura: Ranidae) from New York City and Surrounding Atlantic Coast Regions’.
After being described in 2012, this detailed study confirms the frog as a novel species, largely thanks to two modern techniques: genetic tests and acoustic analysis. While leopard frogs may look alike, DNA reveals the differences between them. And to the trained ear, frogs can also be distinguished through their vocalisations.
Comparing ‘advertisement calls’ (pre-mating calls) – reveals acoustic variation among the frogs whose geographic ranges are near or overlap with Rana kauffeldi. According to the experts, their croaks sound like quacks, snoring and ‘ak-ak-ak’, whereas the new species emits a kind of chuckle (sometimes followed by a groan).
The Rutgers University researchers propose giving Rana kauffeldi the common name ‘Atlantic Coast leopard frog’ because it inhabits wetland areas of several East Coast states around route I-95, from Connecticut to North Carolina.
What remains the biggest surprise is that a new species was discovered so close to New York City. (If you can find frogs there, you can find them anywhere.) As the study says:
This discovery is unexpected in one of the largest and most densely populated urban parts of the world. It also demonstrates that new vertebrate species can still be found periodically even in well-studied locales rarely associated with undocumented biodiversity.
The new frog illustrates the importance of protecting the habitats all around us, even within cities. It’s up to you, New York, New York.