Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

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.

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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.

Hail the Snails!

Need to slow down your fast-paced life?

The Chit in its natural habitat, by C. Gilbertson
The chits are well camouflaged for living in the leaf litter, by C. Gilbertson

Try watching a snail! No seriously, it’s quite calming. They glide along and seemingly know exactly where they are going. They are curious, and if you listen really carefully, you may hear them munching away when they eat!

Cody Gilbertson, a Master’s student of conservation biology at SUNY-ESF, has been working with and watching snails since 2010. On top of that, the species she works with is a small land snail that is also one of the most endangered species of New York. This little snail is quite famous because it is only found at one location in the entire world!

Not a bad field site! By P. Harper
Not a bad field site! By P. Harper

The Chittenango Ovate amber snail resides at Chittenango Falls State Park. At the base of a waterfall 167 feet in height, this unique species goes about its business amongst rocky ledges and lush vegetation. This summer, teams of volunteers signed up to help Gilbertson assess the size of the snail population and contribute data for her research.

In these snail surveys, volunteers survey small plots of snail habitat for a set amount of time, capturing small snails in tupperware containers as they go. After the collection, all the captured snails are sorted an identified, so we can figure out which are Chittenango Ovate Amber Snails (affectionately called “Chits”) and which are other snail species. After the count, the Chits are released back where they were found and the other snails are removed.

The team scrambles over rocks! By P. Harper
The team scrambles over rocks! By P. Harper

The data from these surveys is part of Gilbertson’s greater study on the life cycle of this rare snail and figuring out what is necessary for their survival. What do they eat? What conditions do they need to survive? How the heck do they live through upstate New York winters? She is looking for new methods to increase this snail’s overall numbers with a goal to help stabilize their population and create a template for other conservation efforts for land snail species.

Captive COAS_Cody Gilbertson_SUNYESF
This baby snail was born in captivity, and may provide clues to how we can protect the endangered chits. By C. Gilbertson

Another important aspect of the project is captive breeding. So far, Gilbertson has successfully bred a biologically similar snail species and yielded roughly 3000 hatchlings. She is also looking at how many other snail species live in isolated populations within New York State to find out if isolated populations are common or rare in this family of snails.

Not many people slow down to examine the small beings on earth. Some animals may almost be invisible, but they all play a big part in ecosystems and the small size of the animal does not make them less important. So next time you’re feeling rushed in life, take a moment to watch a snail, you’d be amazed at the calm steady creature before you!

Featured image is of Chittenango Falls at Chittenango Falls State Park, by Paris Harper.

Post by Cody Gilbertson and Paris Harper

Wildlife Spotlight: the Bee Fly

The bee fly is an adorable insect which can be seen buzzing around wildflowers in spring and summer. The one in this photo was seen near the shoreline at Harriman State Park. Bee flies are named for their round, fuzzy bodies and habit of flying from flower to flower in search of food. Unlike bees, however, these flies don’t sting! That long nose is called a proboscis, and it serves the same function as a hummingbird’s beak, allowing the bee fly to sip nectar from flowers. But as cute and harmless as the adult bee flies are, they start their lives as ferocious little larva! Bee Flies lay their eggs in the same burrows solitary bees dig for their own eggs. When the fly larvae hatch, they eat the bee’s winter cache of pollen, and then they eat the baby bees, too!

We think these guys are the cutest fly species! Photo by Paris Harper
We think these guys are the cutest fly species! Photo by Paris Harper

Predator Study At State Parks

A research study out of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) is collaborating with Fahnstock State Park and Wonder Lake State Park in Putnam County to look at predator populations as part of an ongoing study of the declining population of New England cottontails (NEC), Sylvilagus transitionalis. NEC is a rabbit native to the northeastern U.S., but studies indicate that in the past decade, the population of NEC has decreased by as much as 50%. Some populations of the cottontails are in New York State Parks, and learning more about best management practices is critical to protecting this species.

As the New England cottontail (NEC) is a declining species being considered for listing on the federal Endangered Species Act, there are a lot of ongoing efforts to create habitat for these rabbits in the Northeast. The hope is these efforts will preemptively restore populations of NEC in the region, making it unnecessary to list the species as endangered.

The two greatest contributing factors to the decline of NECs are loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus. While the two cottontail species are almost identical in appearance, the Eastern Cottontail generally outcompetes NECs for food and habitat, edging the native species out of its former range. While loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail are both factors contributing to the decline of New England Cottontail, this study looks at predation in conjunction with other management practices.

Predation accounts for almost all natural mortality in NECs. As such, increases or decreases in the predator community would have serious consequences for the cottontail population. Most management projects have focused on enhancing habitat for NECs, but this study considers whether those projects might have the unintended consequence of altering the predator communities in such a way that cottontail survival is reduced. If that’s the case, then it will be necessary to consider predator management strategies when managing habitat for NEC. Results from this study will help inform habitat managers and recover NEC populations.

The project, led by PhD student Amanda Cheeseman and Dr. Jonathan Cohen, both from SUNY-ESF, together with Scott Silver of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Putnam Highlands Audubon, uses trail cameras targeting mammal predators, in combination with visual and auditory surveys for hawks, owls, and eagles, to examine predator communities in areas where different ways of controlling and managing NEC habitat are already being practiced. The project is taking place across multiple sites in Putnam and Dutchess counties. The pictures above were taken in Fahnstock State ParkThe information from the predator study will be compared to data from radio-collared cottontails in order to get a complete picture of the predator-prey relationships in New England Cottontail habitats.

featured image is of the New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis, by Michael Merchand, NYNHP

Lost Ladybugs

The nine-spotted ladybug
The nine-spotted ladybug

Some species of ladybugs are becoming rarer in North America. Many once-common native species are being replaced by exotic ladybugs from other parts of the world. Scientists are not sure how this will affect ecosystems and important role that ladybugs play in keeping population of plant-feeding insects, like aphids, low. To learn more about ladybug biodiversity, The Lost Ladybug Project and the New York

The two-spotted ladybug
The two-spotted ladybug

Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) are asking the citizens of New York to join together in finding out what ladybugs are in New York and where the rare ladybugs are hiding.

The fun part is that ladybug species are pretty easy to identify, check out the Lost Ladybug Project’s field guide. Some ladybugs can be identified solely from photographs, so feel free to send in pictures of ladybugs that you think might be uncommon or rare.

The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University
The transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

Participate in the Lost Ladybug Project by taking pictures and uploading them using the online submission form, or by downloading the Lost Lady App (available for iphone and android).

NYNHP will be tracking rare 3 species of ladybugs in New York: The nine-spotted ladybug, the two-spotted ladybug, and the transverse ladybug. Thanks for your help!

featured image is the transverse ladybug. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University.