Ready To Croak Over Coqui Calls

Don Chapman
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November 16, 2005
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By this time many of you, especially on the North Shore and the Windward side, have heard the night-piercing, sleep-wrecking mating call of the male coqui frog.

Last week in Hilo, I heard it for the first time. All night long.

And if there’s a guy who needs his beauty sleep, not to mention his function-halfway-intelligently-the-next-day sleep, it’s yers truly.

Even with the door and windows in my room at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel closed and the curtains pulled, even with the AC cranked up to full throttle (on a night that was already plenty chilly), the ceaseless coqui calls penetrated the room. And my head.

Scientists say the call reaches 90 to 100 decibels, so we’re talking chainsaws and rock concerts here. How the heck can something the size of a quarter make so much noise?! The coqui call makes a mosquito buzzing about your ear seem like a neighborly visit.

Sometime during the night, it occurred to me that the call of the coqui is really nature’s answer to Chinese water-drip torture.

Thus it is that I am calling for a statewide Nuke The Coqui campaign, and hope all decent public servants will get on board and make this a priority. It obviously isn’t for the feds. The Department of Agriculture turned down a $9 million grant proposal to attack the coqui problem earlier in the year. Maybe we should apply through Homeland Security.

OK, not Nuke The Coqui with real nuke-you-ler warheads - but certainly an all-out campaign to eradicate this alien invader. Makes more sense than spending money fighting Waikiki street performers.

To all of the civic, corporate and military groups that do noble things on weekends such as clearing litter from beaches and highways, how about joining the coqui eradication effort? Let’s kill off the coquis and then go back to other service projects. Think of it as a Hawaii version of a Texas rattlesnake hunt, but less dangerous.

I highly recommend the UHManoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Website as a source of good, scientific information - - on where to look for coquis, how to capture or kill them with a variety of solutions, and tips for homeowners on eliminating habitats favored by coquis. (The noise was intense enough in my sixth-floor hotel room; I can’t imagine how much louder it would be if they were hiding in plants just outside, say, someone’s bedroom window.)

And make no mistake - the coquis are coming your way, if they’re not there already. The first coqui is believed to have arrived in 1988, probably on the Big Island. Today there are more than 200 infestation colonies on the Big Island; Maui has 40 or more infestations; Oahu five, Kauai one. It may be too late for Hilo, but this is a war that might yet be won on Oahu. An infestation at Wahiawa is believed to be under control, but frogs have been spreading through plant nurseries from Haleiwa to Waimanalo.

To my Puerto Rican friends who consider the coqui their national animal and hold its nocturnal screech semi-sacred, and to all those who litter the Internet with the goofiest spin in the world about how Hawaii is actually improved by the presence of coquis, all I can say is, what on earth are you thinking?

One of these sites even promised to find out which island hotels have the loudest coqui concentrations and to stay only there. Reservations should not prove problematical.

Sadly, these coqui-heads have apparently been seized with Stockholm Syndrome - you know, hostages sympathizing with their kidnappers. Or as the woman at the hotel checkout desk said with a tired shrug of surrender, “You get used to it.”

With earplugs, maybe.

But why would you want to get used to such an unnatural (in Hawaii) racket?

As a native of Oregon, I’m fond of the state animal, the beaver. I’ll bet a bunch of beavers would love to get their teeth around some of Hawaii’s trees. Fortunately, our Thai friends have not made a big deal about importing their national symbol, the elephant.

Coqui-nuts, by the way, miss several points of science and logic. Researchers in Puerto Rico find an average 40 adult frogs per 20-by-20-meter plot, compared to 200 per 20-by-20-meter plot on the Big Island. Why? An utter lack of natural (that word again) predators in Hawaii, such as snakes, tarantulas and scorpions - other examples of God’s creatures I’d rather not see here.

Also, in Puerto Rico female coqui frogs usually lay a clutch of 34-75 eggs, four to six times a year (450 eggs max). In Hawaii, however, mating pairs can produce a clutch every two and a half weeks without a loss of fertility - which adds up to 26 clutches a year, or more than 1,400 eggs per female annually! In other words, without needing to dodge hungry predators, coquis are free to do nothing but eat, screech and fornicate. Forget rabbits when seeking an active sex life simile.

And while there are no coqui predators in the Islands, coquis do pose a threat to Hawaii’s fragile island ecosystem - contrary to the claims of their fans. Coquis have voracious appetites that put Hawaii’s unique insects and spiders at risk, thus also competing with our already endangered native birds and other native fauna that rely on insects for food.

Yes, coquis are absolutely coming to your neighborhood and mine unless we do something to stop their inexorable advance that will not - trust me here - improve your quality of life or the value of your home.

“If you really want to get rid of them,” a neighbor opined, “make a really tasty dish out of them.”

Fantastic idea.

Nuke The Coqui is good, but Cook The Coqui works too.

Coqui croquette, anyone? Coqui cookies?

Next year at Taste of Honolulu, I envision the world’s biggest Coqui Cookoff.

So to the Sam Choys, Roy Yamaguchis and Alan Wongs of Hawaii, here is your civic challenge:

Create a killer coqui dish. Literally.

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