New Discoveries in your own Backyard: Still Possible

Meet the new frog: The new species of frog, which is unnamed, was found hiding in plain sight on Staten Island

Meet the new frog: the new species of frog, which is unnamed (at time of this image in 2012), was found hiding in plain sight on Staten Island. Photo taken from Dailymail.co.uk

One would think that a highly developed city such as New York City in the United States, there would be a low diversity of animals and everything has been discovered already. As the population increases, more and more of the environment is at threat to be destroyed to make room for the expanding people. Entire ecosystems or species can be lost and never revive themselves.

New discoveries are still happening, even in 2014. And surprisingly, in NYC and that tri-state area. During the Student Conference for Conservation Science, there was a PhD candidate, Jeremy Feinburg, that presented on his research on a new species of leopard frog that normally resided in Long Island. This frog, similar to the other two common leopard frogs found in the tri-state area, had a distinct low chuck-ing sound compared to the normal snore or quick/rapid chuckle sound as a normal leopard frog.

Jeremy Feinberg posing in all his ‘awesome’ness out in the field. Photo taken from Dailymail.co.uk

Out of curiosity, Feinberg went into the area that the sound originated from and took DNA samples. He discussed what he had found with colleagues for two years (roughly during the years of 2008-201 roughly) in hopes in partnering with a geneticist. Sometimes, depending on how similar the physical characteristics of an organism is to general group, genetics is necessary to find the difference. During the two years aforementioned, he met with several frog experts who were understandably somewhat skeptical that there could possibly be an undiscovered species in the concrete city.

He did not give up though. Eventually in 2010, a genetics lab team thaat included researchers at the University of Alabama, UC Davis and UCLA joined in were willing to take upon the task to test the DNA. This group included another student, geneticist Catherine Newman, along with her two mentors, Leslie Risser and Brad Shaffer.

It came back positive after a year or so!! Feinberg’s curiosity turned out to be a new species of leopard frog. To say he was excited when he stated this during his presentation would be an understatement. It was fascinating to listen to him. His general background was in ecology, not taxonomy or genetics, so it took a lot of work to get this all figured out. Essentially, he just loved frogs. So much in fact that he often was in the brush studying them that he might as well turned it into a degree.

Once the genetics confirmed his suspicion, there were several steps that needed to be taken in order for a new species to be labeled and recognized by the overall science community. These include but were not limited to the bioacoustics (the sounds made and its wavelength range), the physical minute differences between the leopard frogs (webbing, size, weight, spotting variation, etc.), genetics, and area of appearance.

After a lot of hard work, he and his colleagues were able to gather all of the important information regarding the new species and publish a paper on the discovery. So the final sections of his presentation was a very important question: why has it just been discovered/identified?

There are several reasons he surmised in his final slides: (1) while surveying locals in that area, they described the frog’s sound to be similar to the Wood Frog whose audible range to the human ear is comparable to the chuck sound; (2) when asking other scientists, there are common misconceptions about NYC with its low species to find since it is highly developed; (3) the low sense of desire to adventure into non-nature areas; and (4) the areas that these frogs inhabit are in unpleasant human environments since they live in weeds that grow similar to bamboo so create a physical barrier people don’t want to venture into.

Once his presentation was done, I met up with him during the break. I told him that I was thankful for his presentation because it gave me hope to finding something new even though our culture is becoming more and more developed and destroyed due to tourism. That it was a wonderful find all because of a simple curiosity due to a difference you noticed in the croak. And above all, thanking him for showing us the process and hard work that goes into identifying a new species when many do not believe.

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How did I tie this into The Bahamas? We are have become so content in believing what others say when they study in our country, we begin lose site of what makes our country so great. We lose sight when the dollar bills are shown for potential development of a high diversity area, that once the area becomes modernized for tourism, we do not want to venture into the bush like we would as children. We have this idea that it is okay to not explore anymore as we slowly become more and more like the tourists we cater to: more into comfort and technology.

We become like those who did not notice the difference in the frog call, comfortable and shurg it off as something else instead of going to explore. Our curiosity is being stunted.

For all, not just The Bahamas, we forget that science began with curiosity. The who, what, where, when, why’s and how’s that began it all.

Do not fret. There are organizations that hope to change this such as Young Marine Explorers, and FRIENDS of the Environment whom I have had the privilege to work with this summer. There are still many parts of our country that have yet to be explored.

And I guarantee there are species just waiting to be found. We just have to go to those unpleasant areas and dig deep.

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