One might have thought that every animal living in a city with 8 million people would have been noticed. And it had been, but a suggestion that there was a new frog in town 80 years ago had been dismissed. So Dr. Jeremy Feinberg of Rutgers University and his team could safely make a splash by announcing this week the discovery of Rana kauffeldi in the heart of New York, and to be fair, in New Jersey and surrounding wetlands as well.
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Feinberg came across the animal one night on Staten Island, when he was listening for the mating call of another amphibian, the southern leopard frog. What he heard was no southern leopard frog.
The distinctive croak proved to be from unknown kind of leopard frog, which the scientists define as a cryptic species. That means they had known about the beast but had classified it incorrectly - in this case, with other leopard frogs.
Put otherwise, this new leopard frog is evidently related to other leopard frogs, it's just not clear how. They could be genetically rather distant, or practically kissing cousins. Possibly one day that will be elucidated – or maybe not. Frogs are notoriously sensitive to changes in climate and pollution, and have been declining in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.
Confusion over leopard frogs is quite the North American tradition, it would seem. For centuries zoologists have been fighting over the classification of the froggy crowd, including because of "changing species concepts" across those long years.
Meanwhile, the scientists were bemused: "This discovery is unexpected in one of the largest and most densely populated urban parts of the world," the scientists understate in their paper.
Really, though, the frog had been known as far back as 1937, when the ecologist Carl Kauffeld postulated that a third form of leopard frog existed in New York and New Jersey. Science noticed, it just didn't accept the theory. It took a whole new era of genetic analysis and bioacoustics to rule in favor of the new species, which is now, finally, recognized. Welcome to New York, Rana kauffeldi.