Spotting the Leopard Frog

The discovery of a new species is always a big deal, especially when it’s been living right under the noses of over 8 million residents of New York City and the surrounding counties. A new species of leopard frog, still unnamed,  was first identified by Jeremy A. Fienberg of Rutgers University in 2009 on Staten Island, and DNA tests confirmed his discovery in 2012.

The deceptively similar northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens), by M. Schlesinger
The deceptively similar northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens), by M. Schlesinger

It’s no mystery how this mystery frog escaped our notice for so long. There are over a dozen leopard frog species that range between Canada and Central America, and until Fienberg recognized their distinctly different vocalizations, all the leopard frogs of NY were presumed to be either northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens), or southern leopard frogs (R. sphenocephala).

New York State Parks is collaborating with the NY Natural Heritage Program on a regional study aimed at defining the range of the newly described species in comparison to the northern and southern leopard frog. The study’s objectives are to define the distribution, habitat use, and conservation status of the three species from Rhode Island through Virginia by matching calling surveys with follow-up surveys to catch, photograph, and get tissue samples from frogs. In New York, efforts are focusing on the Hudson Valley and Long Island, where State Parks contain some large wetlands that may be suitable as leopard frog habitat.

As part of this project, Natural Heritage biologists Kelly Perkins, Rich Ring, and Matt Schlesinger, and Parks biologist Jesse Jaycox, conducted surveys and habitat assessments for leopard frogs at wetlands in state parks. These surveys were conducted at Goose Pond Mountain, Tallman Mountain, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Taconic State Parks. Despite spending long evenings in the parks at night, when frogs are most active, no leopard frogs were found. However, these wetlands are home to many other types of frogs, including Green Frogs (R. clamitans), spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), wood frogs (R. sylvatica), and pickerel frogs (R. Palustris).

For now, this new species remains a cryptic member of New York’s natural wildlife. Hopefully, we’ll get to know it better in the future.

Swamp_South_of_Purgatory_Road_Aug08_2
A swamp in Orange County where the new species makes its home. By M. Schlesinger

The featured image is the unnamed species of leopard frog, by Matt Schlesinger. Post by Matt Schlesinger and Paris Harper.

Update: The newly discovered leopard frog species has been named the Atlantic coast leopard frog, Rana kauffeldi.

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