One of the most common questions I get asked is “what is it.” It seems like such a nice simple question, unfortunately it often digs far deeper than those asking me realize.
Take for example this frog I found escaping from the sun’s hot rays beneath some flowerpots on our deck. Hopefully all of you will be able to be able to agree that it is indeed a frog. Perhaps quite a few of you will note that it is a treefrog by the large “sticky” toe pads just barely visible in the picture above. Hopefully there will be at least a few of you who will recognize it right away as being a gray treefrog; a common frog found throughout the eastern US and well known for breeding in everyone’s swimming pools (which, unfortunately for it, is not to its advantage). While you would be right in saying it’s a gray treefrog, you may be surprised that I still don’t know what species this frog is. The problem is there are actually two (externally) identical species of “gray treefrogs,” Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) and Common Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor). Their ranges largely overlap and they can only be identified by their breeding call or DNA analysis (the Common Gray has twice as many chromosomes as Cope’s). Thus, this guy is one or the other but nobody can tell just by looking.
I think you are probably getting the picture -but wait it gets worse. I can remember during my undergraduate studies working at a stream with a local expert on fish identification. Our class was catching all sorts of different fish and then working to learn their proper identification. It is much harder than you might think to properly identify some of the species but I was catching on -or so I thought. One particular fish had me stumped so I asked the expert for some help and he told me seemingly without thinking “Oh, it’s just a hybrid” [yes it's true, some native species naturally hybridize].
Moral of the story: If a biologist tells you they don’t know what something is, don’t just assume they’re a pathetic excuse for a biologist. They may just be more honest than most.
Frog: Nikon D1x, Nikkor 70-300 f:4-5.6 ED