2021 - Texas "Big Frog Year" Attempt

 Since I wasn't going to be traveling internationally thanks to SARS-CoV2, I decided the best goal for this year was to try and do a "big frog year".   Actually, I have a wager with a friend to see who can get the most bird, butterfly, amphibian and reptile species posted in iNaturalist this year.

So I thought I would make a post here and update it periodically to see how I progress.   I am getting perilously close to getting all the species, but there a few missing I probably won't get.   Some I only have photos of, but most I have recordings of as well.

August 18  - My original goal at the beginning of the year was to get 30 out of the 42 species of Anuran that occur in Texas.   On August 18th, I got my 35th species, the Mexican Spadefoot.  It did require a (long) drive out to west of Eldorado last night.   They are not found much closer to where I live and it rained heavily out there in the last few days.   This seemed like maybe my last chance for the year?

There are 7 species I am still missing.  There are a couple of species I'm not sure I can get (Houston Toad, Pickerel Frog), a couple more species I probably I will get (Fowler's Toad, Burrowing Frog) and then a three I might get if I get lucky (Pig Frog, Greenhouse Frog, Mexican White-lipped Frog).   There is also a new species in Texas, unfortunately, that I don't really have a good lead on yet, the invasive Cuban Treefrog.

Scientific Name  Common Name  First 2021 record
Pseudacris clarkii  Spotted Chorus Frog  23-Jan  Gonzales Co.
Acris blanchardi  Blanchard Cricket Frg. 27-Feb  Gonzales Co.
Hyla cinerea  Green Treefrog  27-Feb  Gonzales Co.
Litho. sphenocephalus  Southern Leopard Frg.
27-Feb  Gonzales Co.
Lithobates catesbeianus  American Bullfrog  5-Mar  Aransas Co.
Pseudacris crucifer  Spring Peeper  7-Mar  Shelby Co.
Pseudacris fouquettei  Cajun Chorus Frog  7-Mar  Shelby Co.
Craugastor augusti  Barking Frog  27-Mar  Edwards Co.
Eleuthero. marnockii  Cliff Chirping Frog  30-Mar  Bandera Co.
Lithobates berlandieri  Rio Grande Leopard
30-Mar  Bandera Co.
Gastrophryne olivacea  W. Narrowmouth Toad 2-Apr  Jackson Co.
Anaxyrus americanus  American Toad  9-Apr  Angelina Co. (photo) 
Incilius nebulifer  Coastal Plains Toad  9-Apr   Angelina Co.
Eleuthero. campi  Rio Grande Chirping
9-Apr  Angelina
Hyla chrysoscelis  Cope's Gray Treefrog  9-Apr   Angelina Co.
Hyla versicolor  Gray Treefrog  9-Apr  Angelina Co.
Lithobates clamitans  Green Frog  10-Apr  Angelina Co.
Anaxyrus woodhousii  Woodhouse's Toad  23-Apr  Denton Co. (photo)
Hyla squirella  Squirrel Treefrog  1-May  Victoria Co.
Pseudacris streckeri  Strecker's Chorus Frg.
1-May  Victoria Co.
Gastro. carolinensis  E.Narrowmouth Toad  1-May  Calhoun Co.
Lithobates areolatus  Crawfish Frog  1-May  Victoria Co.
Scaphiopus hurterii  Hurter's Spadefoot  1-May  DeWitt Co.
Anaxyrus punctatus  Red-spotted Toad  2-May  Edwards Co.
Anaxyrus speciosus  Texas Toad  2-May  Kinney Co.
Scaphiopus couchii  Couch's Spadefoot  2-May  Kinney Co.
Anaxyrus debilis  Green Toad  12-May  McMullen Co.
Rhinella horribilis Giant Toad  16-May  Cameron Co.
Smilisca baudinii  Mexican Treefrog  16-May  Cameron Co.
Hypopachus variolosus  Sheep Frog  16-May  Cameron Co.
Anaxyrus cognatus  Great Plains Toad  4-Jun  Andrews Co.
Lithobates blairi  Plains Leopard Frog  4-Jun  Andrews Co. (photo)
Hyla arenicolor  Canyon Treefrog  2-Aug  Jeff Davis Co.
Spea bombifrons  Plains Spadefoot  9-Aug  Dallam Co. (photo)
Spea multiplicata  N. Mexico Spadefoot  17-Aug  Schleicher Co.
Anaxyrus fowleri  Fowler's Toad 
hopeful
Anaxyrus houstonensis  Houston Toad 
not likely
E. planirostris  Greenhouse Frog 
maybe
Leptodactylus fragilis  White-lipped Frog 
hopeful
Lithobates grylio  Pig Frog 
missing
Lithobates palustris  Pickerel Frog 
not likely
Rhinophrynus dorsalis  Burrowing Frog 
hopeful



© Chris Harrison 2021

Rio Grande Chirping Frog
Eleutherodactylus (cystignathoides) campi


The tiny Rio Grande Chirping Frog* is native to southernmost Texas and then into Mexico.  However, they have been widely introduced into larger cities in Texas and other states.   Their chirping calls can be heard any warm night in my backyard in San Antonio, Texas.

 This species range is expanding rapidly in Texas.   When I lived on the west side of Houston in the late 1970s, I had never seen it.   By the early 1980s, it was abundant in my old neighborhood.    And the expansion is continuing through both frog movement and our increased discovery of the species.

Here's a map I made in 2015 of the known records for the species in Texas:


 In January 2021, I made a new map based on the records available from above plus new records from iNaturalist.  You can see how many of the missing counties have been filled in plus how much further north it has been documented.   It's range into the hill country is difficult to identify due to confusion with the very similar Cliff Chirping Frog which occurs there.


The photo and recordings are from my backyard, although not necessarily of the 
same frog.
The most typical call is a short sharp chirp/cheep call.  The chirps are fast and each chirp increases in pitch.




Here's a closer view of the short call, showing how each "chirp" slides up in pitch.





These frogs also have a longer "trilled" call which they make.  It seems to me that the longer trill is the real call and the short peeps are just working up to it.




Here is the waveform and spectrograph for the first three seconds of this recording:



Here's a side by side comparison of the two types of call notes.  This comparison was created by cutting out some of the intervening notes in a long series of calls.





and here's the sonographic representation of that recording.




 
* It is worth adding that in 2020, a study elevated the Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides campi) to species status Eleutherodactylus campi.   The original E. cystignathoides is now restricted to the coastal plains of the gulf coast of Mexico.   We will have to see if that taxonomy is accepted.   This group still needs a lot more work.
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© Chris Harrison 2012 and 2021



Ornate Burrowing Frog
Platyplectrum ornatum

One of the great things about living in the information age is how easily you can get feedback from others.   I originally identified these unseen frogs as the calls of the Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) based on listening to recordings on David Stewart's wonderful frog call CD.   But in looking at range maps I started to wonder if maybe I was outside the range of L. peronii, so I posted this recording on the Facebook Australian R&A Identification group and got an answer almost immediately!   Listening to the recordings, I think I've finally got the correct ID.

The Ornate Burrowing Frog or Ornate Frog (Platyplectrum ornatum) is a stubby little frog found in a wide area the northern and eastern coasts of Australia from Central New South Wales to northernmost Western Australia.  It can apparently be found in a variety of semi-open habitats where there are sandy soils.  It spends most of its life burrowed beneath the sand only emerging during wet periods.




One night while recording frogs in a cane field area near Miallo, Queensland, I recorded this a loud frog call I didn't know.  It was a loud "knocking" sound heard over the background calls of the Australian Rocket Frogs (Litoria nasuta).   Most descriptions of this call refer to it as a metallic "unk".


Ornate Burrowing Frog Calls - Miallo, Queensland


The photo shown here was taken several years before near the town of Chillagoe, further inland from where this recording was made.

 © Chris Harrison 2014 & 2020

Eastern Central American Treefrog
Smilisca manisorum



The widespread "Mexican Treefrog" (Smilisca baudinii) is one of the best known anuran denizens of much of tropical Mexico and Central America.  It even gets up as far as the southern tip of Texas.  Even though it is widespread and very common over much of its range, it's identity as a single species is not clear.  Over the years several studies have proposed that these populations represent not a single species but a complex of multiple species.

A recent study published in the journal of MesoAmerican Herpetology has resurrected one of these species, Smilisca manisorum, that was first described in 1954 by Edward Taylor.   The population is question occurs from the eastern Caribbean lowland mesic forests from the Mosquito Coast of Honduras down through the caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica.   It is regarded as a different species from the populations on the Pacific versant of Central America.

This study separated S. manisorum from S. baudinii populations on the west coast of Central America by a series of morphological characteristics including "its consistently larger adult size, the long and flat inner metatarsal tubercle, and the increased hind limb webbing".  The paper has illustrations of these characters and the authors also collected tissues for future molecular studies.

My concern, of course, is simply did I get a new lifer!???

This Treefrog from Cano Negro, Costa Rica could fall in the area potentially inhabited by Smilisca manisorum.  Although the ranges are not completely worked out, this part of Costa Rica seems to be more affiliated with the Atlantic versant of Costa Rica than the Pacific, from which it is separated by the Guanacaste Mountains.

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Maccranie, et al. (2017) also suggest that the populations from the El Petén region of Guatemala may also represent a different species previously described as Hyla pansosana but they do not elevate that species in their publication.   That leaves me curious about the "smilisca complex" frogs I have seen in southern Campeche which is adjacent to and contiguous with that Petén habitat, but that post will have to wait until the species is elevated.

McCranie, J. R. 2017. Morphological and systematic comments on the Caribbean lowland population of Smilisca baudinii (Anura: Hylidae: Hylinae) in northeastern Honduras, with the resurrection of Hyla manisorum Taylor. Mesoamerican Herpetology 4: 513–526.

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© Chris Harrison 2020

Lifelist Update for January 2019

Spent Christmas 2018 on a holiday trip to Trinidad and Tobago.  Didn't spend much time recording frogs but I did get to add a few species to my recording lifelist.

Eastern Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale) - new species (added in July)
Mount Tucuche Tree Frog (Flectonotus fitzgeraldi) - new species (added in May)
Smooth-skinned Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus validus) - new species
Whistling Grass Frog (Leptodactylus fuscus) - new species
Trinidad Poison Frog (Mannophryne trinitatis) - new species
Tobago Poison Frog (Mannophryne olmonae) - new species
Urich's Leaf Litter Frog (Pristimantis urichi) - new species
Rusty Treefrog (Boana boans) - new species

So, a bit of updating to the lifelist means it looks like this....


Family Genus Number of species recorded so far
Bufonidae


Anaxyrus
10

Incilius
3

Rhinella
2



Hylidae


Acris
3

Boana
1

Dendropsophus
1

Hyla
8

Pseudacris
6

Osteopilus
1

Scinax
2

Smilisca
2

Triprion
1



Pelodryadidae

Litoria
6

Nyctimystes
1

Ranoidea
4



Microhylidae

Austrochaperina
2

Hypopachus
1

Gastrophryne
2



Myobatrachidae

Crinia
1

Limnodynastes
1

Platyplectrum
1
Craugastoridae

Craugastor
1

Pristimantis
1

Eleutherodactylidae

Diasporus
1

Eleutherodactylus
9



Centrolenidae

Hyalinobatrachium
2



Leptodactylidae

Leptodactylus
6



Ranidae

Lithobates
8



Dendrobatidae

Oophaga
1



Hemiphractidae

Flectonotus
1



Aromobatidae

Mannophryne
2



Rhinophrynidae

Rhinophrynus
1



Scaphiopodidae

Scaphiopus
2

Spea
2

Total # Families = 15

Total # Genera = 34
Total # Species = 95


© Chris Harrison 2019

Tobago Poison Frog
Mannophryne olmanae


The Tobago Poison Frog (Mannophryne olmanae) is a small ground-dwelling frog found along rocky stream beds of the island of Tobago.   It has a very small range and is only known from the northeastern corner of this small island.  It is also known by the rather quaint name of Bloody Bay Stream Frog due to the fact that is found near Bloody Bay (named for a bloody battle between English soldiers and African slaves in 1771 that turned the bay red with blood!).  Tobago Poison Frog is a little less colorful but may be more descriptive of where they are found. 😉 


Unfortunately, although I was able to hear some of these little frogs calling along the roadside one afternoon, I was not able to see the individual frogs.  So the only photo I have to share is the photo of the roadside stream/waterfall area where they were calling. 😢  They were calling from above this rocky wall out of sight and inaccessible to me.

The call of the Tobago Poison Frog is a cricket-like chirping similar to the call of it's sister species from Trinidad (Mannophryne trinitatis).  When you hear them calling in a chorus like this, it sounds a bit like a squeaky metal wheel -



Next trip to Tobago, I need to actually see one of these little guys!
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© Chris Harrison 2019

Mount Tucuche Tree Frog
Flectonotus fitzgeraldi


When I'm out traveling looking for birds and herps, I often stumble across an unusual sound I don't recognize and I will record it to try and figure out if it was a new frog or something else.  

Such was the case with this frog.  I saw this tiny treefrog I saw sitting on a leaf one night while on a night walk at the Asa Wright Nature Center.  I couldn't get any closer because it was on a leaf below me on a steep hillside off the road.   So I grabbed the only shot I could.   At the time, I figured it was one of the small treefrog species from Trinidad but they are tough to ID.  So I decided to ID it later after some research.  I came up with a tentative ID of the Lesser Treefrog (Dendropsophus minutus).  

After I posted it on iNaturalist, a local Trinidad herper corrected my ID to Mount Tucuche Tree Frog (Flectnonotus fitzgeraldi).  I was delighted to be corrected not just to have the right ID, but the fact that this was one of the Marsupial frogs in a totally new family for me the Hemiphractidae!

So a few months later, I happened to be deleting some older recordings I had made with my phone and I ran across some forgotten recordings I had made in Trinidad.  I normally don't record "important" recordings with my phone but I will grab a quick recording if I don't have my other gear.   Among the recordings on my phone was this call.....


This recording included a series of buzzy clicks in patterns of two or three.  At the time I wasn't positive it was a frog, but it sounded too erratic to be a cricket or other orthopteran (they usually have long or consistently repetitive calls).  A few days ago, I happened to listen to a recording of a different Flectonotus species online (F. pygmaeus) and that made me think of this recording.   
Hmm, I wonder if F. fitzgeraldi sounds similar.   There were no recordings available online, but I found this paper from about the differences between the species.  The paper describes F. fitzgeraldi as having a call similar to F. pygmaeus but instead of single pulses the calls of F. fitzgeraldi are in groups of two or three.  That's exactly what this recording shows and I am pretty confident that the frog in my recording is Flectonotus fitzgeraldi!

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© Chris Harrison 2019

Tobago Glass Frog
Hyalinobatrachium orientale tobagoense

The Tobago Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale tobagoense) is a small Centrolenid frog that is found only on the island of Tobago.  It is the endemic island subspecies of the Eastern Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale) which is known from a few populations in far northern Venezuela.

I remember some 35 years ago, I saw my first photos of the glass frogs in the family Centrolenidae, I couldn't wait to get down into the tropical Americas and see one.  From my first trip into their range in 1989, it was a high priority to see one of these amazing flat-headed, clear-skinned frogs.  Several decades later and many trips to the neotropics later, I've seen dozens of species of Neotropical frogs, but never seen a single Centrolenid! 😢  And now, I have a recording of a second species which just kind of rubs it in that I can't see one of these critters.  But one day.....!

So, like some of my other recordings, I never saw this frog.  😢 
If you want to see photos of this frog and read more about it, I highly recommend John C. Murphy's excellent Herpetology of Trinidad blog!

The species is poorly known and so I can't find any recordings of its call.  Murphy et al. (2018) describe it as a high pitched "peep" given from vegetation overhanging streams.  This is the exact situation where I recorded this call, in fact it looked just like the habitat photo they show in their book for calling sites!

So, even through I've never heard this frog, I base my identification on:
1.  comparison to the calls of the other known species in the range.
2.  similarity to the calls of other Hyalinobatrachium I do know.
3.  the habitat description and description of the call in Murphy, et al. 2018.

So I guess it isn't 100% positively identified, but until someone provides me a recording of this species for comparison it will be my identification based on my research and experience.  That's the best I can do for now.

And one day, maybe, I'll actually get to see one of these amazing clear-skinned frogs!  But for now, this may be one of the only available recordings of it's call.

Tobago Glass Frog Call

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© Chris Harrison 2019

Murphy, et al., 2018, A Field Guide to the Amphibians & Reptiles of Trinidad & Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist's Club
 - this is a must have book for anyone going to explore Trinidad or Tobago!
It isn't available through Amazon as I write this, but you can order it online from the T&T Field Naturalist's Club or find it in bookstores on Trinidad (which is where I found it).

Smooth-skinned Ditch Frog
Leptodactylus validus

Leptodactylus validus
Tobago
The Smooth-skinned Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus validus) is a common frog of the grasslands and forest edges of northern South America.  It is a common frog over much of its range and is often found living commensally with man.  The first group of these that I found were living in a drainage overflow that contained a few inches of water.  There were quite a few individuals living in this square drainage tank.  They were breeding and calling from the few inches of water in this tank day and night.   Although I heard and recorded them calling here on multiple occasions, I was never able to see a calling male.  I believe, like many Leptodactylus species, they were calling from beneath the mass of tangled bamboo leaves in the tank.



Although frogs are not always associated with being good "parents", many species do show some level of parental care.  Females of several Leptodactylus species have been shown to stay with their eggs and tadpoles, presumably protecting them.   I believe I observed this in the frogs in this concreted ditch as tadpoles tended to cluster around females that were sitting still in the water.


Leptodactylus validus female "tending" tadpoles
Tobago
I was able to find this species calling in more "natural" surroundings of flooded grassy fields as well as from grassy ditches at the edges of a residential area of Bon Accord in Tobago.

The call of this species is a sharp whistled "pip" or "whip".  Here are a couple of individuals calling from a grassy ditch in Bon Accord, Tobago -



Here's a look at the spectrographs of a couple of those calls.  You can see how although the call is brief, it is as ascending call with an almost "percussive" consonant on the end.




This species was often heard calling during the day.    We came across a large chorus calling from this flooded grassy area right at the junction of the main road and a busy footpath leading down to a popular tourist beach. Even though it was broad daylight and quite a few people were about, these frogs were chorusing away (hidden beneath the vegetation). 





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© Chris Harrison 2019