Since October, I’ve been spending a lot of time climbing up and down swift, rocky streams at night in the New England Tablelands of NSW. Why? I’ve begun the search for a tiny frog shrouded in mystery- the Peppered Tree Frog.

Peppered Tree Frog, Litoria piperata
Peppered Tree Frog (Litoria piperata), New England Tablelands, NSW, Australia. This photo was taken in the 1970's. Image: Marion Anstis
© Marion Anstis

The Peppered Tree Frog (Litoria piperata) is one of Australia’s most mysterious frogs. This tiny (~3cm) frog escaped scientific discovery until the 1970s and wasn’t officially named until the 1980s. The frog is known from only a few sites on the New England Tablelands of NSW. Tadpoles of the species are unknown, the call has never been recorded, and the frog has not been seen since 1973. It’s currently considered Critically Endangered, but because there's so little known about it- including whether or not it is still around- it’s impossible to know what to do to help the species.

Thanks to a grant from the Saving Our Species Program (Environmental Trust, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage), I’m leading the search for the species. I’m revisiting the sites where it was reported in the 1970s and extending the search to nearby streams. I’m focusing on rocky streams above about 800m in elevation on the eastern slopes between Glen Innes and Armidale - steep and ruggedly beautiful terrain that I very much hope is still home to the frog.

Back Creek

Habitat of the Peppered Tree Frog (Litoria piperata), New England Tablelands, NSW, Australia.

Image: Jodi Rowley
© Jodi Rowley

With most of the likely streams running through private land, I’ve been relying on the generosity of local landholders to grant me permission to search their streams for the species at night. It’s on these streams that I hold the most hope for finding this little frog once again.

Since October, I’ve spent 42 hours searching 21 streams (some of them many times!). As there’s been two or three people on each survey, that adds up to over 100 person-hours! Donning headlamps, we climb up and down streams looking for the eye-shine and listening for the call of the Peppered Tree Frog. We’ve been lucky to find 17 species of frog during these surveys, including the Endangered New England Tree Frog (Litoria subglandulosa) and Stuttering Frog (Mixophyes balbus), and we've seen literally hundreds of Wilcox's Frog (Litoria wilcoxii), males of which are a bright yellow in the breeding season. Unfortunately we’ve not yet come across the elusive Peppered Tree Frog.

Litoria subglandulosa, Warra NP

Endangered New England Tree Frog (Litoria subglandulosa)

Image: Jodi Rowley
© Jodi Rowley

I’ll be resuming the search in January, and have my fingers firmly crossed. The frog was previously found in the months of January and March so I'm hopeful that these months will be the best time to find the species.

If you have a stream in the right area that looks like it might be suitable for the Peppered Tree Frog, please do get in touch. It’s only with the help of the community can I hope to rediscover one of Australia’s most mysterious frog species.

Can you help, or do you know someone that can?

Dr Jodi Rowley, Curator, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology
Phone: +612 9320 6014