September 21, 2017
These little frogs are loud — so loud that people sometimes call the police to complain, thinking it’s a broken car alarm. They’re called coqui frogs. Instead of a low, familiar “ribbit” sound, they blare a high-pitched “koh-key!” (the sound they’re named after), which can be heard from blocks away.
Originally from Puerto Rico, these small amphibians are starting to travel the world. So far they’ve found their way to Florida, Hawaii, and now, California. They get around by hiding in nursery plants that get shipped across state lines. The frogs showing up in California are coming in with nursery plant shipments from Hawaii.
When neighborhoods become new homes for coqui frogs, everyone notices. After the sun sets, the males start to sing to the females. The noise from even a single male can be so overwhelming it can interrupt people’s sleep. Introduced coqui frogs are such a nuisance, their presence can even decrease property values. After all, who wants to live next to noisy frog neighbors? (Although in their native Puerto Rico, the familiar sound of coqui frogs is so comforting that people post recordings of the frog calls online so Puerto Ricans abroad can listen to them as they fall asleep.)
Recently, biologists and volunteers from NHMLA visited a nursery in Torrance, Calif., positively riddled with coqui frogs. Headed by Herpetology Curator Greg Pauly, the team collected as many coqui frogs as possible over the course of three hours. As a scientist interested in urban nature, Pauly wants to better understand these frogs and how they’re fitting into the ecology of Los Angeles, which is no stranger to introduced species. By collecting frogs, Pauly and his collaborators can learn more about them. What are they eating? How quickly are they reproducing? Are they transporting pathogens like the chytrid fungus that could impact our native frogs?
There are still a lot of questions to answer about these introduced frogs, but the question no one needs to ask is, “Do you hear that?”
Have you heard a coqui frog in Southern California? They do show up at private residences, usually transported on nursery plants used in landscaping projects. Sometimes people think these are a crazy bird calling all night long. If you think you have heard or seen a coqui frog, please send a recording of the call or photo of the frog to Greg Pauly at email@example.com.
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