New species of frog discovered in…New York City?!

Posted at 5:38 PM, Oct 31, 2014
The Atlantic Coast leopard frog lives in the marshes of Staten Island, at the edge of New York Harbor. (Brian Curry/Rutgers University)

The Atlantic Coast leopard frog lives in the marshes of Staten Island, at the edge of New York Harbor. (Brian Curry/Rutgers University)

(CNN) — New York is famous for its singular residents: Loudmouthed taxi drivers. Hirsute Brooklyn hipsters. Upper East Side patrons of the arts.

Now, the city is welcoming an unlikely new breed of denizen: a newly discovered species of frog.

A team of scientists has identified the unique critter, dubbed the Atlantic Coast leopard frog, in the marshes of Staten Island — beside New York Harbor and not far from the Statue of Liberty.

The frog’s habitat stretches from Connecticut to North Carolina, but it’s the discovery of an exotic animal species in one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas that has scientists buzzing.

“It is incredible and exciting that a new species of frog could be hiding in plain sight in New York City,” said Joanna Burger, a biology professor at Rutgers University and a co-author of a research paper about the frog, published this week in the scientific journal PLOS One.

The finding confirms research done more than 75 years ago by Carl Kauffeld, former director of the Staten Island Zoo, who wrote many books about amphibians and was considered an authority on the subject. Kauffeld published a paper in 1937 in which he claimed to have discovered the new frog species, but his research was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Kauffeld died in 1974 at age 63. His cause was taken up six years ago by Rutgers doctoral candidate Jeremy Feinberg, lead author of the new paper.

Feinberg and other researchers said they were able to employ modern technology to examine the genetics and mating calls of leopard frogs and determine that the amphibians in the wetlands of Staten Island were in fact distinct from two closely related other species inhabiting the northeast U.S.

“We had the benefits of genetic testing and bioacoustic analysis that simply weren’t available to Kauffeld to prove that even though this frog might look like the two other leopard frogs in the area, it was actually a third and completely separate species,” Feinberg said.

In giving the scientific name Rana kauffeldi to the new frog, Feinberg and a team of seven other researchers chose to honor Kauffeld and his work.

“After some discussion, we agreed that it just seemed right to name the species after Carl Kauffeld,” Feinberg said. “We wanted to acknowledge his work and give credit where we believe it was due, even though it was nearly 80 years after the fact.”

Despite its trademark urban canyons of steel, glass and concrete, New York actually is home to a wide variety of animal life. The 843 acres of Central Park, for example, contain raccoons and opossums, many types of migratory birds and a rare species of centipede. And, of course, lots and lots of pigeons.

No word on whether the Staten Island frog ever swims across the harbor to Manhattan for a little sightseeing. But given the public fascination with the Bronx Zoo cobra that briefly escaped its enclosure in 2011, it may be only a matter of time before the new frog gets its own Twitter account.