More than Just a Frog

More than Just a Frog

The Coquí of Puerto Rico

Editor's Note: Welcome to another edition of The Coquí Chronicle! Our lead article today is by Emily Proctor, Ph.D. Dr. Proctor is an educated Homo sapiens. She wrote this for the local island newspaper. You might find the article interesting. Or you might find it dumb. We hope it makes you think.

Puerto Rico has a frog that fits easily into the palm of the smallest child's hand. It is a very cute frog. Tiny eyes bulge out on each side of its head. Its brown skin feels like a wet gumdrop. Toes have pads instead of webs. When you see it, you might think of E.T. or Koropi. Even children who are afraid of jumpy, slimy creatures don’t mind holding this little frog. Capturing one is difficult. Coquís are very shy. They move around at night, and they jump faster than you can blink. 

The coquí frog usually calls at night. It makes a sound that is surprisingly loud for a creature only an inch long. If you go searching for it, it stops calling immediately. The call is a chant of two tones. It sounds like this: "ko-KEE, ko-KEE." When you first hear the chant, it may sound loud and unpleasant. Usually, dozens of frogs chant at the same time. If you live on the island a long time, however, the chant becomes soothing. It sounds like a lullaby, and you miss it when you go away. Push the button below and listen. The chant gives the frog its common name, coquí.

In fairy tales, frogs turn into handsome princes. In superstitions, frogs cause bumps on the hand. Fairy tales and superstitions that are handed down from older to younger people for generations are called folklore. In Puerto Rico, coquis have become part of the folklore of the island (check out the folk story in this issue).

Coquís are small, but they have a very long scientific name—Eleutherodactylus! Try saying that fast several times! Eleutherodactylus is the name of a group, or genus, of frogs. They are found mostly in the Caribbean and Central America. Many islanders think there is only one type of coqui frog. Actually, there are 17 species in Puerto Rico. The males of only two species make the distinctive "ko-KEE" sound. Until the 1960s, scientists thought these two species were one and the same. Of the two, Eleutherodactylus coqui is far and away the most common. It is also the largest, and the one that scientists look at most closely. That is why the word "coquí" refers to all 17 types of frogs.