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Hidden in Plain Sight

New species of reptiles and amphibians are being discovered all the time, but you don’t have to travel to remote jungles in distant countries to find them. The newly named Lithobates kauffeldi, the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog, was recently discovered on Staten Island, New York, and is now verified to be in several states along the East Coast, including Virginia. The new species’ name was released October 29th, in honor of Carl Kauffeld, the man who discovered the species over 80 years ago, but was widely dismissed by the scientific community.

So how did a new species of frog turn up in the urban Northeast? It was purely by accident; during a study conducted on Staten Island investigating the steady decline of frogs, the researchers heard an usual cluck-like call. The call was similar to the laughing chortle of the Southern Leopard frog, however it was much shorter in duration, and was immediately recognized as being out of place. Other recordings dating back as far as 2003 confirmed that the call was not a single anomaly, but that the mystery callers were widespread.

The new Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog is what is known as a “cryptic species”, meaning it is very difficult to tell it apart from other leopard frogs. The call is the most obvious give away, and, beside from the distinct pattern on the hind legs, is virtually indistinguishable from other native leopard frog species.

What makes the new species very interesting and unique is their habitat. The frogs are turning up in areas that are more urban, even those areas just outside New York City. The leopard frog is a very sensitive species, and many herpetologists are intrigued to be finding them in industrial wetlands. It’s very encouraging to find such a sensitive species thriving so close to massive human populations.

So be sure to keep your eyes (and ears!) open the next time you go for a walk in your neighborhood. You never know where the next new species will turn up!

Southern Leopard Frog Photo Credit: Karl Rebenstorf

Southern Leopard Frog
Photo Credit: Karl Rebenstorf

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