LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The U.S. Government has put out a call to frog lovers. It wants volunteers for the North American Amphibian Monitoring Project to look and listen for frogs. The goal is to determine where frogs are, how they're faring and whether any action is needed to safeguard their habitats. Sandy Hausman went frog watching with a volunteer.
SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: Three nights a year, Brian Munford drives the back roads of Southeastern Virginia, stopping near wetlands to listen for frogs.
BRIAN MUNFORD: I thought it would be neat to check out a couple of these spots because they should be wet. And they're far enough away from any kind of rural, agricultural activities that they should be relatively pristine. We'll see what we see. Hear what we hear.
HAUSMAN: At around 10 p.m., the trees are filled with pulsing fireflies serenaded by a chorus of frogs. In one spot, at least four kinds are calling.
(SOUNDBITE OF FROGS CALLING)
HAUSMAN: By day, Munford is a professional chef. But tonight, he's one of about 500 citizen scientists in 22 states taking part in the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program. By listening to recordings online, they learn the calls of native frogs. It helps, Munford says, to associate each call with a familiar sound.
MUNFORD: Everything from banjo strings to '80s pop songs.
HAUSMAN: '80s pop songs?
MUNFORD: I think that the green frog, when it starts to call, it sounds just like the beginning of "Modern Love," the David Bowie song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MODERN LOVE")
HAUSMAN: Munford says some frogs are increasingly hard to find, but others are turning up in new places.
MUNFORD: The green tree frog is definitely expanding. The wood frog, which is typically a mountain species, is actually moving down into the coastal plain. Just this summer, I found the barking tree frog 40 miles west of its previous known occurrence.
HAUSMAN: Recently, Munford recorded a call he didn't recognize and shared it with J.D. Kleopfer, a herpetologist with Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He, too, had heard the mystery critter.
J.D. KLEOPFER: They sound like wood frogs, but like it's way outside the range of wood frogs. And it's way too early for green tree frogs, which also sound a little bit alike. Then I went to a meeting shortly thereafter and ran into a researcher out of Rutgers that has just recently described a new species of leopard frog. And as soon as I described the quacking-like sound, his eyes just opened up. And he said, that's the new species of frog.
(SOUNDBITE OF FROGS CHIRPING)
HAUSMAN: The high-pitched chirps are chorus frogs. But the new guy emits that low clucking sound. The frog is as yet unnamed, but it turned out Munford and Kleopfer were not the first to hear it. That credit goes to Jeremy Feinberg. He's a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University who found the frog while doing fieldwork on New York's Staten Island. It was, he says, a big surprise.
JEREMY FEINBERG: Somebody's probably finding a new frog species right now on the top of some rainforest mountain in a remote area. But to happen in the U.S., this would only be the second completely unknown species found in just about the past 30 years anywhere north of Mexico.
HAUSMAN: Discoveries like this aside, biologists Sam Droege says it's important to learn as much as we can about frogs. Droege's with the U.S. Geological Survey. And he launched the monitoring program 17 years ago to get out in front of environmental threats.
SAM DROEGE: We didn't want to be in the position that all the frogs had disappeared, and we were writing up the papers that just documented that they were all dead. We want to be in front of the game saying that, well, it looks like there's some problems in the Midwest with green frogs and northern leopard frogs. Maybe someone should investigate that.
HAUSMAN: Frogs are a key part of our world, he says. They eat insects, serve as food for other wildlife, and with their thin permeable skins, provide an early warning system for environmental problems. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.