Endangered northern cricket frog may be reintroduced to LI

Dr. James Howard, Professor of Biology at Frostburg

Dr. James Howard, Professor of Biology at Frostburg State University, in Frostburg, Md., holds a northern cricket frog in Allegany County, Md. (Oct. 30, 1997) (Credit: AP)

A recovery plan for the endangered northern cricket frog in New York State includes evaluating whether to reintroduce the species to Long Island, where the tiny amphibians have been extinct since the 1930s.

Named for their gick-gick-gick mating call, akin to a cricket's chirp, the frogs grow to about 1 inch but can jump up to 6 feet.

The Department of Environmental Conservation's plan, released Wednesday, focuses on four general areas: Long Island and New York City; two areas along the Hudson River; and the Taconic foothills in parts of Dutchess and Columbia counties.

It involves protecting and managing remaining populations, and identifying habitats where the frogs don't live but where the environment is suitable for reintroduction.

"The northern cricket frog is a historic resident of New York State and represents an important amphibian component of wetland ecosystems," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement. "The plan aims to improve the frog's geographic diversity and ultimately increase its population."

One of the priorities on Long Island is to determine if the frog's ideal habitat still exists, said DEC wildlife biologist Gregg Kenney.

"Since we don't have frogs there any more, they're going to have a challenge recovering them," he said.

New York's population of northern cricket frogs has been declining for more than 80 years. The number of sites where they were documented dropped from 26 in the 1990s to seven in 2009-11, according to DEC.

The decline reflects a worldwide trend for amphibians. Of 5,743 documented species, 32 percent are either threatened or extinct, according to the recovery plan.

Reintroducing species is successful only about 10 percent to 25 percent of the time, said Professor James P. Gibbs, associate chairman of the Environmental and Forest Biology Department at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.

"It's much lower than we would like it to be," he said.

The cause of the cricket frog's decline in this region is not known, though it could be attributed to habitat loss, chemical pollution, pesticides and climate change. Ultraviolet radiation from a depleted ozone layer is also a possible culprit.

"These limiting factors need to be addressed" for recovery efforts to succeed, Gibbs said.

The frogs breed in shallow areas of freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers where floating mats of aquatic vegetation are present and canopy cover is limited. Females lay from 200 to 400 eggs, which hatch within days.

The frogs often fall prey to aquatic spiders, bullfrogs, fish, snakes, turtles, birds and mammals.

The northern cricket frog is one of two endangered amphibians in New York. The other is the tiger salamander.

The public comment period for the DEC plan ends Feb. 21.

Comments or questions should be submitted by phone at 845-256-3098, by mail directed to Gregg Kenney, NYSDEC, 21 South Putt Corners Rd., New Paltz, NY 12561, or by email to R3wildlife@gw.dec.state.ny.us with "northern cricket frog" in the subject line.

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