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Puerto Rico’s Coqui Tree Frog

There is one sweet sound unlike any other that you can hear throughout the island of Puerto Rico at night, and that is the song of the coqui tree frog. Rarely seen but often heard, these tiny translucent amphibians are the beloved mascot of the island.

Coqui tree frogs. Photo © Panachai Cherdchucheep/123rf.
Coqui tree frogs. Photo © Panachai Cherdchucheep/123rf.

The scientific name is Eleutherodactylus, and they differ from other frogs in two key ways: First, instead of webbed feet, they have tiny pads on their feet that facilitate climbing to the tops of trees, where they like to gather at night to mate and feed on insects, including mosquitoes, termites, and centipedes. Second, they do not begin life as tadpoles but hatch fully formed from eggs.

There are 17 varieties of coquis in Puerto Rico, but only two of them sing the famous songs: the coqui comun and the coqui de la montaña, also known as the coqui puertorriqueño. And only the male sings the “co-QUI!” call after dusk. Coquis can be found throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, but only those in Puerto Rico sing the song.

In recent years the coqui inadvertently has been introduced to Hawaii, hidden in plants shipped there from Puerto Rico. But while Puerto Ricans love the sound of their coquis, many people in Hawaii do not. In fact, they consider the frogs to be a scourge to the island and the state government is trying to have them eradicated. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, some species of coquis have been put on the endangered list, including the tiniest one, the coqui llanero, which was only discovered in 2005 and whose song is so high-pitched it is barely perceivable by humans.

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