A “Hoppy” Discovery

A new frog species has been discovered in New York City

Mar 16, 2012 | By Anna Prokos

Usually, scientists search rainforests, ocean habitats, or other remote spots on Earth to find new plant and animal species. So when a new species of frog was found hopping around urban New York, you could say scientists croaked with delight.

Three years ago, Rutgers University science student Jeremy Feinberg heard something strange as he listened to southern leopard frog calls. Instead of the normal repeated croaking of this common frog, he heard just one single cluck. “When I first heard these frogs calling, it was so different,” Feinberg explains. “I knew something was very off.”

Feinberg trekked around New York and New Jersey listening for the sounds and collecting samples. He shared his research with biologist Catherine E. Newman who was studying leopard frogs.

A Very Different Frog

Newman analyzed the frog’s DNA. DNA is a material found in all living things. DNA’s structure gives everything—from people to animals to plants—their distinctive look and characteristics. She compared the new frog’s DNA with the DNA of southern and northern leopard frogs.  Even though the frogs looked nearly identical, their DNA was very different.

“It’s what we call a ‘cryptic species:’ one species hidden within another because we can’t tell them apart by looking,” Feinberg says. “But thanks to molecular genetics, people are really picking out species more and more that would otherwise be ignored.”

Feinberg believes the frog also once lived in Manhattan, but its current habitat ranges from the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey to northern counties of New York. It may even be living in parts of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The center of the frog’s habitat seems to be Yankee Stadium. But so far, Feinberg hasn’t found any frogs living around the famous baseball field.

Joanna Burger is Feinberg’s advisor at Rutgers University. “It is amazing to discover a new frog in Rutgers’ backyard and the metropolitan area of New York and New Jersey that was among us for a century without being recognized,” Burger says. “We need to do all we can to make sure that we protect it.”