Friday, July 26, 2013

Mystery Treefrog - A Stowaway?

As I was walking around my yard and gardens yesterday morning, I happened to notice this odd, little blob of gray-green on a clump of Spanish needles (Bidens bipinnata) that I've come to enjoy under my downspout.

Looking a little more closely, I realized that it was a treefrog.  So I took a photo, aiming for a side view so I could see its markings a little more clearly.

I've seen treefrogs like this before, so I didn't think much of it...

...until I tried to identify it this afternoon, so that I could include it in a post about yesterday's walkabout.  Things turned out to be a little more complicated than I expected.

None of the treefrog species were looking right when I compared my photos to the possibilities shown in the most recent Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles in Kansas.  So I took down a nationwide reference I had, The Frogs and Toads of North America, thinking that this might be a more southern species that had expanded its range a bit north with all our recent heat and the mild winter.

Well, even in that reference, the only species that looks even remotely similar is the Pine Barrens Treefrog, Hyla andersonii.  My little treefrog wasn't "similar" to a Pine Barrens Treefrog, he was a dead ringer for one.  According to the range maps shown in the above book, this species is found in 3 rather limited locations in our country:  southern New Jersey, the coastal plains of the Carolinas, and an area in the panhandle of Florida.

I presumably didn't think anything of seeing this little tree frog, because we lived down in Mobile, Alabama, for 6 years and have visited my brother in Pensacola, Florida, many times during that time and since then.  I must have seen this species at some point, or even many times, while we lived and/or visited down there.

But, we don't live down there now - and we haven't lived in the area for over 6 years.  Why am I seeing it in my yard, here and now?  Well, we haven't been to or received visitors from either New Jersey or the Carolinas in years and years...but, we WERE down visiting our daughter in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, at the end of May.  We didn't bring back any plant material or anything that I can think of that might have harbored a stowaway...except for our car itself.

The only explanation I can think of is that this little tree frog chose to sleep under our car, parked in front of Jess's home, when morning came on the day we were due to drive back to Kansas.  He must have been somewhere on the underside of our car (perhaps in a wheel well?) and came with us all the way back from Florida to Clearwater, Kansas.  That was a 17 hour drive, involving an overnight stay at a hotel - but here he is.

I haven't seen him since I took the photo although, truthfully, I haven't looked very hard.  Even I am not enough of a WEE (wild-eyed environmentalist) to drive him back to Florida, if I were to find him.  Nor can I imagine that he'd do too well being sent through the mail or by UPS.  I can't imagine that he'll survive the winter here.  Even if he does, there will be no mate to discover conjugal happiness with.  And even if, by chance, both Mr. and Mrs. Pine Barrens Treefrog made the trip together, I really can't imagine that the prairies of south central Kansas will provide a suitable habitat for this species to get established.

So I'm not too worried that I've unleashed biological Armageddon here.

However, this does highlight a very real problem that does occur with distressing frequency:  when we travel, insects and other small animals stowaway in our vehicles or anything else that accompanies us.  Serious pests can be  - and have been - accidentally brought into an area because of unintentional stowaways.  Right now plant people here in Kansas are keeping their eyes peeled for any sign of emerald ash borer, a small wood-boring beetle that kills basically all ash trees.  These beetles were unintentionally introduced from Asia into southeast Michigan in 2002 and have spread widely from there.  They were sighted in Johnson County, Kansas, just a couple months ago. 

Many other examples of biological stowaways creating big time havoc are well known:  zebra mussels, Dutch elm disease, and Japanese beetles, to name just a few.

We certainly didn't plan on bringing back any stowaways - and if I hadn't tried to identify this little treefrog, I would be blissfully unaware that we actually did - but that didn't keep it from happening.  I guess the moral here is to be careful and try not to translocate any wildlife when you travel...although that's obviously no guarantee that it won't happen anyway.

16 comments:

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Wow. That is a surprise. That's quite a trip, but animals do it all the time I suppose. I don't think you're disrupting the eco system too much with his hitchhiking. Hope he makes a move south during a rainy front and makes it to warmer climates before winter. He's got to be wondering what happened.

Rose said...

What a wild ride this little tree frog must have had!

We, too, are on the lookout for emerald ash borers, which have been sighted in the next county. So true that we must be careful about stowaways when we travel. My two friends and I accidentally brought back some chiggers from North Carolina last year--no environmental impact, but it sure was uncomfortable for us:)

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, unfortunately I think the only way he's going to get home is if we consciously take him on a ride. But I'll bet you are so right about him wondering where in the world he landed!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Rose, luckily the emerald ash borer is still further away from us than the next county. I doubt it will be long before it's here, though.

I feel your pain about the chiggers! Nasty little critters. I apparently didn't react to them until I was in my mid-20s, but since then my body has made up for lost time!

Casa Mariposa said...

I have a little tree frog that has moved into the garden this year, possibly from the creek across the street. We have emerald ash borers here but hopefully they never find the ash trees in my garden.

ProfessorRoush said...

Impt topic and nice catch Gaia. I just nominated you for "Best Blog Writing" in the upcoming awards!
http://garden-bloggers-conference.com/hall-of-fame-awards/

greggo said...

I used to find them in tropical plants I had purchased but never had a stowaway. In regards to your june grass discovery on my comment form. I too discovered june grass when I transplanted what I thought was Indian grass and turned out to be June grass. So far I have been very impressed. I've also purchased some improved varieties of the same Genus. We live in such a beautiful area don't we.

Jason said...

Kansas must look like a very strange place to the poor little guy.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Mariposa, I, too, hope that the emerald ash borers don't discover your ash trees! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you (and them).

Gaia Gardener: said...

Prof,

Wow! Thank you! Just having you nominate me makes me feel very honored.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Greggo,

Yes, we are lucky enough to live in a very beautiful place - especially when we get sufficient water! I'm glad that I'm not the only one who finds Junegrass so attractive.

Interesting that you've found treefrogs in your tropical plants. I suspect stowaways are much more common than we normally realize.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Jason,

I think you are exactly right! Mobile, for example, gets an average of 67 inches of rain a year. That's just a touch different from our water regime in Kansas!

Andrea said...

Hi Gaia, thanks for dropping by my site, i have not been posting often lately. That was an exciting story for that Frog's Escapade, can even make a story in it. I immediately thought of the escapades of some plants and animals (organisms) from Spain and Portugal centuries ago when the Spaniards conquered our shores. As we said the rest is history, but a lot has been brought here, intentionally and otherwise.

Sunnyside Dru said...

Around here, we have the stink bugs...ick. And tree of heaven. Ick. Yours is delightful.

Skeeter said...

We have so many little green tree frogs in our neck of the woods that I don't really take too much notice of them these days. I shall now be on the look out for this particular froggie! When we take the boat out to the lake (25 min drive) we must check over the boat for hitchhikers. Once we were on the boat cruising around and a lizard popped up from nowhere and we had to get him to shore. The lake was really low due to drought so to get him to land was a challenge with us being far from the ramps. But we found an area and carefully placed him on the land. I am such an animal lover that I would take frog back to Alabama and use him as an excuse for a Road Trip! :-)

We have an issue with Pine Beetles killing Pine Trees here in GA. We see acres upon acres of trees removed when they are found in the midst. Sad....

Janet QueenofSeaford said...

Wow, what a little stowaway. I can't imagine he rode all the way in from Florida. We have them all over here.