Although the discovery of a previously unknown species is never routine, it is at least more expected in remote corners of the globe, from the deep Amazon to Pacific atolls. But few people expect to find a new species in New York City! (Except perhaps a mutated cockroach or sewer rat.)
But scientists from UCLA, Rutgers University, UC Davis, and the University of Alabama have just announced the discovery of a new species of frog in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Scientists have not yet named the amphibian, so they are currently calling it “Rana sp. nov.,” meaning “new frog species,” although they sometimes call it “the weird Rana,” one researcher admitted.
Observers have noted for some time that certain leopard frogs in the New York and New Jersey area have different-sounding calls to their kin, although it wasn’t until recently that scientists used DNA analysis to confirm that the animals are genetically distinct from the dozen or so other species of leopard frogs.
This newly identified wetland species likely lived on Manhattan, before it was largely drained and paved over, as well as other low spots throughout the five boroughs and beyond.
Today the new species hangs on in part of Staten Island (officially part of NYC). The scientists noted that the center of its current known range is actually near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
“For a new species to go unrecognized for all this time in this area is amazing,” said UCLA Professor Brad Shaffer in a statement. Shaffer is one of the authors of the new paper.
The discovery of a new species of frog in the country’s largest city is a good reminder that scientists have much more work to do to better understand the natural world. It is also a reminder of how important it is to protect the world’s remaining wetlands. In the case of the U.S., more than 90% of our original wetland cover is gone, thanks largely to development.
What other species remain in the patchwork of existing wetlands, and what can they teach us?
Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with NationalGeographic.com. He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, MailOnline.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.