Leopard Frogs and Hidalgo

I recently returned from a fieldwork trip to Hidalgo, Mexico. I was there primarily catching leopard frogs to help out some colleagues: Anne Chambers and David Hillis from the University of Texas and Daniel Lara-Tufiño, a Mexican graduate student working with Adrián Nieto at UNAM. Anne and David (along with their Mexican collaborators) are working on the project investigating the systematics of leopard frogs. As part of this, we sampled frogs across a transect across the state of Hidalgo from Pachuca to Atlapexco that spanned the contact zones of several species. The trip was a huge success (in large part because we were able to sample 10 frogs from each of our targeted localities) and a lot of fun.

Preparing samples in Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, MX

I also got to see a lot of really cool parts of Mexico I hadn’t spent much time in before. The trip began in the pine forests of El Chico National Park where we were sampling Rana spectabilis (or the showy leopard frog, which owes its name to the bright green dorsal color it exhibits in between it’s spots, which you can see below).

The showy leopard frog (Rana spectabilis)
A beautiful lake in Hidalgo full of showy leopard frogs, and plateau tiger salamanders (Ambystoma velasci)!

From there we dropped down into the Biosphere Reserve Barranca de Metztitlán to catch Rana berlandieri (the Rio Grande leopard frog, which occurs from Texas/New Mexico all the way through Central America). This is an incredibly beautiful area that contains the highest diversity of cactus species in the entire world.

Biosphere Reserve Barranca de Metztitlán

Then, we drove back up into the cloud forest of the Sierra Madre Oriental (taking a quick stop-off to see one of my favorite groups of lizards: Xenosaurus, in this case Xenosaurus tzaculatepantecus). The coolest place we stayed on the trip was probably at the CICHAZ, A.C. field station in Calnali. The station was founded by Gil Rosenthal from Texas A&M University, who works on swordtails (fish of the genus Xiphophorus), which are native to this area and used extensively in behavioral and genetic research.

CICHAZ, A.C. Field Station, Calnali, Hidalgo, MX
Outdoor fish enclosures at the field station for Xiphophorus research

We ended the trip by dropping down into the lowland rainforest near Atlapexco to catch the endemic Rana johni. As you can see, we saw a lot of cool, diverse habitats, and some interesting species. It was also a lot of fun to learn to catch leopard frogs. They are rather crafty, and can be difficult to catch in ponds and streams, especially during the day. However, it becomes a fun challenge to try and sneak up on and grab them before they dive into the water and disappear.

Even though we were very focused on catching frogs, we did find time to see a few cool lizards, including this Sceloporus minor being photographed by David and Anne.
Group photo above Molango. It was an awesome view!

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