In October 2014 the Atlantic Coast leopard frog (Lithobates [Rana] kauffeldi) was introduced to the world. Although this Anuran (Order of frogs and toads) has long been found throughout the wetlands of New Jersey, past researchers lacked today’s technology such as DNA and digital bioacoustic analyses to provide convincing evidence to the larger scientific community that the Atlantic Coast leopard frog was unique. Often, L. kauffeldi was simply mistaken for one of the other leopard frog species in the Northeast, such as the southern leopard frog (L. sphenocephalus) or northern leopard frog (L. pipiens).
As far back as 2003, the zoologists in Endangered & Nongame Species Program (ENSP), within New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Fish and Wildlife Program, had taken notice of the disparities in leopard frogs found across the state. Such differences were noted between leopard frogs of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the more familiar southern leopard frogs of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. It was not until partnerships were formed with other scientists and resource managers that the true identity of the Atlantic Coast leopard frog was revealed.
Rutgers University graduate student Jeremy Feinberg contacted ENSP Zoologist Brian Zarate in 2009 about a video of a peculiar calling leopard frog Brian had posted to his personal YouTube page two years earlier. During his doctoral field research, Jeremy had also been hearing and observing leopard frogs in Staten Island, New York that did not conform to the other currently described species local to the region.
After three years of research and collaboration, ENSP was acknowledged in 2012 for assisting in the collection of tissue samples from this “mystery” frog that would lead to the publication of a scientific journal article (Newman et al. 2012 – below) that concluded, based on nuclear and mitochondrial genetic data, a new species of frog did, in fact, reside here in New Jersey!
With the most recent publication on the new species (Feinberg et al. 2014 – below), the frog found scattered from the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge in the north all the way to Cape May Point State Park in the south, was finally given a name and described in greater detail on its differences from other similar looking frogs. In fulfillment of an awarded Conserve Wildlife Matching Grant, Jeremy Feinberg has created a New Jersey-specific guide to The Leopard Frogs of New Jersey, exclusively available through the Division of Fish & Wildlife (below). This useful tool will help readers distinguish confusing species from one another.
The Leopard Frogs of New Jersey Field Guide (pdf, 630kb)
Video and Audio of the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog (YouTube Video)
Cryptic Diversity in Metropolis: Confirmation of a New Leopard Frog Species (Anura: Ranidae) from New York City and Surrounding Atlantic Coast Regions. Feinberg JA, Newman CE, Watkins-Colwell GJ, Schlesinger MD, Zarate B, et al. 2014. PLoS ONE 9(10) (pdf, 370kb)
Web version (plosone.org website)
A New Species of Leopard Frog (Anura: Ranidae) from the Urban Northeastern US. Newman, C.E., et al. 2012. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 63 (2): 445-455. (pdf, 310kb)