Hawaii's Big Island Is Overrun With Loud Frogs From Puerto Rico

acevvvedo via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
acevvvedo via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0 / acevvvedo via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Hawaii’s Big Island is overrun with a very tiny—and very loud—frog. Native to Puerto Rico, the coquí frog is about the size of a quarter. It compensates for its diminutive size with its incessant cry: the shrill, high-pitched "Ko Keee ... Ko KEEE” from which it derives its name.

While the frog is beloved in its homeland, Hawaiians feel a tad differently, according to The Washington Post. The coquí isn’t native to the Big Island—scientists think it arrived via some potted plants sometime in the 1980s—and their evening mating calls can reach up to 90 decibels. Not only are coquís as loud as a lawnmower, they’re also incessant. Their din lasts from dusk to dawn, disturbing locals at night.

Complicating matters, the coquí has no natural predators in Hawaii, and it's thrived in its new environment, thanks to a plentiful bug population and a rocky habitat full of hiding places. It skips the tadpole stage, so it doesn’t require ponds. As a result, the Big Island’s coquí population is now three times greater than it is in Puerto Rico. (According to one study [PDF], there are 91,000 frogs per 2.5 acres; other reports vary, saying there could be more than 10,000 frogs per acre or between 20,000 and 50,000 per acre.)

Essentially, the coquí is comparable to a bunch of raucous party-goers who weren’t invited over, but showed up anyway—and now they won’t go home. Even more troubling: officials worry that the coquí will harm the local ecosystem by consuming pollinating insects, or hurt export plant sales, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Naturally, Hawaiians are fed up—and they're taking matters into their own hands. Neighborhood watch groups hunt for coquí at night (they’re silent during daytime), and kill them by trapping them in a Ziploc bag and freezing them, according to the Post. The LA Times reports that some individuals douse coquí habitats with citric acid spray, spray vegetation with hot water, or relegate flowers to freezers for a few days to get rid of the animals.

The Wall Street Journal writes that Hawaii’s Big Island had declared a coquí “state of emergency” by the mid-2000s. However, task forces have since reported that they’re resigned to the fact that the coquí is here to stay. It’s impossible to eradicate—so officials have switched gears, and are now focused on containment.

Meanwhile, some animal advocates have set up frog sanctuaries and nature preserves for the coquí. Others try to catch the pesky amphibians and ship them back to Puerto Rico. Many are simply becoming acclimated to the frog’s din. For the time being, it looks like the coquí isn’t going anywhere—so Big Island residents might want to stock up on earplugs.

[h/t Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal]