Coqui frogs feed birds

Coquis are jumping for joy at news that they have been vindicated for alleged crimes against Hawaii. Contrary to what we have been told, coquis do not compete with native birds for insects, and there are predators for coquis in Hawaii.

For years, the government has made a lot of noise about the coquis frogs. They claimed that the coquis, an introduced tree frog of Puerto Rican fame, would eat so many insects that it would starve native insect-eating birds. It was assumed that there were no predators for coquis in Hawaii, allowing the number of frogs to reach Biblical proportions that will deplete insect populations to near nothing.

Guess what? New research shows that’s nonsense. The presence of coquis has no effect at all on populations of native birds. The numbers of native birds were found to be the same regardless of how many coquis were around and eating insects. Apparently, the coquis eat insects underneath leaf matter, while native birds eat insects among the treetops and in the understory. So there seem to be enough insects to go around, after all.

Mynas eat coquis

As for the fear that there are no predators for coquis, allowing their numbers to increase to unnatural proportions, it turns out that was wrong, too. This study found that birds, especially nonnative birds, love to eat coquis. So much so, that the more coquis there are, the more birds there are, too.

And it’s not just birds that eat the small coquis that benefit from the presence of these frogs. Coquis also help populations of birds that eat insects, fruit, and seeds, apparently by generally increasing the fertility of the environment. There are more insects, more plant growth, and more birds. In short, coquis increase fertility, diversity, and population density.

This bird benefits from coquis, too.

Other anti-coqui myths have been busted in the past, like the one about coquis running down property values. Someone actually got a grant to try to prove that in a study, and they squeezed out a possible decrease in property value of, get this, less than one percent. More precisely, 0.16%.

Meanwhile another study showed that the people who like coquis most are those who live with them. In fact, the more coquis you have the more you like them. It was expected that the sound of the coquis would disturb people living with them. The opposite was the case. These people also note fewer mosquitoes, too.

It’s time to accept and enjoy that coquis are here to stay, and are benefiting the Hawaii environment. They are also awesome to hear at night, lulling you to sleep.

In parts of Hawaii where they are abundant, the coqui is as loved as in Puerto Rico, and is destined to join the non-native hibiscus and gecko as symbols of beautiful Hawaii.   Over time, the coquis will evolve to become a new species, the Hawaiian coqui, or Eluetherodactylus coqui Hawaiiensis, and will need to be protected by the same government agencies that now want to eradicate them.

In the meantime, try to tune out the noise being made by coqui haters, and enjoy this new addition to beautiful, exotic Hawaii.

Coqui at home in Hawaii

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Sydney Ross Singer is a medical and environmental anthropologist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation, located on the Big Island. Sydney is a pioneer of applied medical anthropology, and he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.