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.
...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.