Magazine article The New Yorker

Frog Phone

Magazine article The New Yorker

Frog Phone

Article excerpt

FROG PHONE

The ecologist Jeremy Feinberg, who discovered a new species of frog on Staten Island recently, counts himself among New York's "quirk celebrities." Friends call to tell him about shout-outs on "The Daily Show" or "The Leonard Lopate Show," but he knows who's really being feted. "It's never about me," he said. "It's all about the frog," the second new species found in North America since 1986. Feinberg was out in the marshes off the Staten Island Expressway one day when he heard a gurgling noise. "It sounded like the word 'chuck,' " he said. Other naturalists had also been hearing the call, but Feinberg and his team were the first to put a name to the species with the outer-borough accent. Last year, they anointed it the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog, in a journal article titled "Cryptic Diversity in Metropolis."

On a Saturday night last month, Feinberg walked along the fringes of a cemetery on Arthur Kill Road, wearing cargo pants held together by duct tape and a T-shirt with a picture of an open-jawed crocodile. The frogs mate for three weeks each April, and are at their loudest while cavorting. It's a chance for Feinberg to listen in and try to chart new populations. "Let's get a sneak peek into another orgy," he said, cupping his hands behind his ears. The frog bacchanal meant yet another roving date night for Feinberg and his girlfriend, Stephanie Jennings, an urban planner who often joins him in the field during mating season. "It's how we spend our Saturday nights," she said, decked out in hiking boots and a mackintosh. They wended their way among the headstones and came to a rusted fence, behind which was a secluded pond. "We might be borderline trespassing," Feinberg said, craning his neck to listen. "His ears go farther than most," Jennings pointed out. A frog chorus reverberated in the distance. "Those are peepers," Feinberg said, of the frog that was drowning out the others. "It's like a rock concert. Their decibels are through the roof."

Feinberg is an oddball species himself: an urban ecologist. For three years, he worked as a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Long Island, where he grew up. Now he is finishing a Ph.D. at Rutgers, and lives in Brooklyn. "The most important thing I've learned doing fieldwork here over the years is where to park," he said. …

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