A Specimen’s Story



Specimen data card

Meet NCSM 83185 (formerly CA 3847), an adult male Pine Barrens treefrog (Hyla andersonii). NCSM 83185 was originally catalogued as CA 3847 (in the Charleston Museum collection, the prefix CA stood for “Charleston Amphibians”). It is a very nicely preserved specimen, and has held up well over the years.

Pine Barrens Treefrog specimen

Pine Barrens Treefrog specimen NCSM-83185. Photo by Jeff Beane

The Pine Barrens treefrog is an interesting species for many reasons.

1). It has perhaps the most disjunct range of any North American amphibian. There are three widely disjunct metapopulations: one in the Pine Barrens of central New Jersey (hence the common name), one in the Sandhills region of North and South Carolina, and one in a small area of the western Panhandle of Florida and extreme southern Alabama.

Pine Barrens Treefrog

An adult male Pine Barrens Treefrog from Richmond Co., NC. Photo by Jeff Beane

2). Its species name is based on an error. The type locality is listed as Anderson, South Carolina, but this locality is well outside the known range of the species, and it is highly doubtful that either the holotype or the species ever occurred there [Anderson—both the city and the county—were in turn named for Robert Anderson (1741-1813)—a politician, militia officer, and surveyor who fought in the Revolutionary War].

3). It is North Carolina’s official state frog. On 26 June 2013, NC Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill designating Hyla andersonii as the official state frog, the Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) as the official state salamander, and the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) as the official state marsupial (the ‘possum is, of course, also the only marsupial in the state). This gave North Carolina the distinction of being the only state (so far) to have both a state frog and a state salamander. This effort was initiated by the North Carolina Herpetological Society (NCHS, a Museum affiliate group), and came to pass largely through the efforts of Raleigh teen and former NCSM Junior Curator Rachel Hopkins.

Pine Barrens Treefrog

Adult male Pine Barrens Treefrog on Zenobia, Scotland Co., NC. Photo by Jeff Beane

4) It is a habitat specialist, breeding in bay heads, streamhead pocosins, hillside seepage bogs, evergreen shrub bogs, shallow seepage pools, and similar acidic habitats (usually with a pH of <4.5) within pine ecosystems (Longleaf Pine in most of its range, Pitch Pine in New Jersey). Habitats for Hyla andersonii often include various evergreen shrubs (titi, gallberry, sweet bay, swamp bay, loblolly bay, fetterbush, sweet pepperbush, wax-myrtle, etc.), red maple, greenbriar, carnivorous plants (pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts), sedges, rushes, pipeworts, ferns, orchids, switch cane, Vaccinium, and Sphagnum. The most viable breeding colonies are found in open-canopy, early successional sites, produced by continued disturbance. Historically, this disturbance came in the form of frequent fires. In some places where fire has been suppressed, these frogs have been able to persist in logging clearcuts or gas, powerline, or railroad rights-of-way. This is because these specialized breeding sites depend upon adequate seepage water (which is reduced through evapotranspiration when the wetlands are encroached upon by too many woody plants).

Pine Barrens Treefrog

Male Pine Barrens Treefrog calling, Richmond Co., NC. Photo by Jeff Beane

5) In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the North Carolina Herpetological Society a $3,000 grant to conduct a distributional survey of the Pine Barrens treefrog in North Carolina. This type of funding awarded to a private group by USFWS was a first, and the Pine Barrens treefrog became a symbol or mascot of NCHS and was featured on some of its first T-shirts.

6) Pine Barrens Treefrogs are threatened by habitat loss and fire suppression. The species is state-listed Endangered in Alabama and New Jersey, Threatened in South Carolina, and Special Concern in Florida. It currently has no official protective listing in North Carolina, but is designated as Significantly Rare by the NC Natural Heritage Program. In the Carolinas, the best populations are on large tracts of public lands that incorporate fire management (Fort Bragg, Sandhills Game Lands, Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge). They call from late March to early September, but most breeding is from April to July. The call is a nasal “quonk, quonk, quonk,” somewhat similar to that of the much more common Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea), and repeated about once per second (faster on warmer nights). Males may call from the ground, or from shrubs a few inches to a several feet above the ground. The habitat description and remarks on the Charleston card are typical for the species.

Pine Barrens Treefrog

Amplexed pair of Pine Barrens Treefrogs, Richmond Co., NC. Photo by Jeff Beane

7) Some maintain that Hyla andersonii is the most beautiful frog in the Southeast (and/or in North America).

The collector of this specimen, AJ Bullard, is a retired dentist who now resides near Mt. Olive (near where Sampson, Wayne, and Duplin counties meet). Sometimes affectionately known as “Dr. Hyla,” AJ has had a lifelong interest in treefrogs, and discovered many new localities for this species. His other passion is Coastal Plain botany—particularly shrubs. An article about Bullard and his botanical passion (“Botanizing with AJ Bullard” by Sidney Cruze) may be found in the July-August 2013 issue of Wildlife in North Carolina (http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p16062coll4/id/27658).

AJ Bullard at NC State Parks’ Bladen Lakes BioBlitz, 30 Sept. 2016. Photo by Jeff Beane

AJ Bullard at NC State Parks’ Bladen Lakes BioBlitz, 30 Sept. 2016. Photo by Jeff Beane

The handwriting on the original specimen tag is William M. Palmer’s, and it was probably he who preserved this specimen. Bill was curator at the NC State Museum from ca. 1962 until he retired in 1995; he then worked part-time as curator emeritus until June 2016. AJ originally donated this specimen to the NC State Museum in 1969 and (since it was from SC) Palmer sent it to Al Sanders at the Charleston Museum, only to have it return 45 years later!