Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Frog fight!

The proposed killing of
coqui frogs in Hawaii
upsets some Puerto Ricans

By Rod Thompson

Shrieking Puerto Rican coqui frogs are overrunning Hawaii.

State officials are waiting for federal approval to kill the invaders with a caffeine spray.

Death to the coquis!

Un momento, por favor.

Back in Puerto Rico, people are hopping mad that Hawaii officials are bent on killing the frogs.

Carlos Vizcarrondo, speaker of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, told the Internet news site Primera Hora, "For me the coqui is a symbol of my nation, of my Puerto Rican homeland, and if the coqui is in a situation of danger outside Puerto Rico, I, as a Puerto Rican, feel the obligation to do what I can to save the coqui and bring it back to our native soil."

In parts of Hawaii, a population explosion of the 2-inch-long invaders, screeching all night like 10,000 fingernails on a blackboard, has residents struggling not to go insane.

In Puerto Rico, where people have been exposed to the frogs for generations, they apparently are especially protective of their amphibians.

"The Puerto Rican coqui, far from being a headache, is a melodic blessing," Puerto Rican politician Kenneth McClintock told Primera Hora.

Diana Orsini of Puerto Rico sent an e-mail to the Star-Bulletin saying, "I have read the many articles you have on the Puerto Rican coqui and a little piece of (me) just broke down."

She added: "Tourists, when they visit, love the song they sing. Children fall asleep with their songs."

Not in Hawaii.

Cathy Breth of Leilani Estates, south of Hilo, said the frogs have forced her to take sleeping pills. One night she didn't take a pill, and the frogs kept her awake until 4 a.m., she said.

At a party, she discovered that those who don't take sleeping pills use earplugs, she said.

Larry Stevens, her neighbor down the street, said the sounds of the frogs from a distance is indeed "romantic."

"Twenty feet away from you when you're trying to sleep, it's really, really intense," he said.

The frogs have populated more than 150 areas on the Big Island and have also been seen -- and heard -- on Oahu, Maui and Kauai.

Biologists are also fearful that coquis in greenhouses could spread tiny worms called nematodes and could upset a precarious balance in native forests, causing trouble for native Hawaiian species.

Stevens noted that unlike Puerto Rico, which has snakes, there are no natural predators for the frogs in Hawaii.

These concerns get no sympathy from some Puerto Ricans.

"For ridiculous reasons, the federal government wants to eradicate the coqui," reads a headline at

In fact, Puerto Ricans identify with coquis somewhat the way New Zealanders call themselves kiwis.

The primary purpose of is not to defend the little frogs, but as an Internet gathering place for Puerto Ricans outside their home island who recognize the coqui as their symbol. The Tourism Corporation of Puerto Rico uses a coqui as its symbol. A Lions Club in New York and several Puerto Rican businesses on the Internet have "coqui" in their name.

With all this emotion, the facts tend to get blurred. E-mail writer Orsini said coquis are endangered, something that is impossible for a creature that expanded in a single year from 40 sites on the Big Island to more than 150, with up to 8,000 frogs an acre.

There are 16 species of coquis in Puerto Rico and 400 to 500 species of them throughout Latin America.

Of the ones in Puerto Rico, one is listed as threatened, and another is thought to have become extinct in the 1980s.

The two kinds in Hawaii are not the threatened species.

As the coquis elicit vastly different emotions among island residents separated by thousands of miles, Puerto Rican Sen. Fernando Martin noted, "The most significant thing is the dramatic residue of cultural difference which this represents."

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