Editor's Note: This interview took place between Carmen Coquí and your humble servant last Tuesday on an upper branch of a palo colorado tree near the Sonadora River in the El Verde region.
(K): Kurt Coquí, editor and interviewer
(C): Carmen Coquí, real estate agent
Kurt Coquí (K): Welcome, Ms. Coquí, and thank you for talking with us today. As a coquí real estate agent, you can help us learn about how and where coquís live. Of course, the place where we live is known as our habitat. May we start with one or two general questions?
Carmen Coquí (C): Certainly, Kurt, and please, Carmen is fine.
K: Thank you, Carmen. We know we find a lot of coquís in El Yunque forest, but are coquís this common around the world, say, in northern Canada or southern Australia?
C: Oh, no, Kurt. There are more than 200 species of Eleutherodactylus frogs, and they are found primarily in the Caribbean and Central America. I've never had to find a house for a coquí family transferring in from Australia or Canada.
K: Why only the Caribbean, Carmen?
C: Well, it's a bit complicated, Kurt, but we just hate the cold, and our skin dries out terribly in dry climates. The islands are isolated, yet they are close to the lush forests of Central and South America. And because the climate is suitably warm and humid, the Caribbean has become an ideal and relatively safe region for Eleutherodactylus frogs.
K: Carmen, you say "Eleutha...", "Eleutero...", "Eleutherodactylus!" so well.
C: Thank you, Kurt, and let me add that the density of Eleutherodactylus frogs here in Puerto Rico and on the neighboring island of Jamaica is one of the highest recorded for frogs anywhere!
K: Goodness! Does that mean we would find our relatives everywhere in Puerto Rico?
C: Not quite everywhere. Coquís are found wherever it is moist and relatively cool (but by no means cold!). Some of us like to stay on the ground (in spite of the fact that we call ourselves tree frogs!) or in low-lying shrubs. Others prefer tree branches, while yet others climb into the leafy forest canopies of the tallest trees. I personally prefer upper tree branches myself. But, you know, I've seen coquís live quite nicely atop boulders in streambeds (until the heavy rains come!), and some species have even adapted to forest openings, although I don't know how. That would be far too dry and sunny for me!
K: When I visited my friends higher in the mountains, I noticed most of them live at ground level. Why is that, Carmen?
C: Well, Kurt, that's a good observation. You're right. Most lowland frogs live in trees, while most of the highland frogs live on the ground. I'm not sure, but maybe it's because we climb trees in lower elevations to keep cool, and we don't need to do that higher up. The experts call this adaptation, you know, which is when species change and become better suited to their environment. Let me ask you this: Did you know that although lowland coquí frogs often venture into the highlands, highland coquí frogs never go down to the lowlands?
K: Well, that's interesting! I've always wondered why my friends in the upper mountains don't come down to visit. Now I know it's not something I did or said.
C: I suppose you realize that frogs of our species, E. coquí, can live well just about anywhere on the island, and we are found in all but its driest parts. That's why we're so common. Most other species live in very specialized places. E. unicolor, for example (which you might know as the burrow coquí), live in tunnels found under moss, rocks, and roots on elfin woodland peaks. Nowhere else! I don't care how inexpensive or nice the house I show them is. Of course, if something happens to those peaks, they're goners!
K: And what would you say is your best-selling home?
C: Oh, I would say the "hidey holes," snug and safe little nooks found under logs and in large leaves, such as the yagrumo.
K: What would you say is the most important criteria when showing the "perfect" coquí home to your customers?
C: Without doubt they all need a good supply of litter or other suitable protective ground cover.
K: Litter? Do you mean bottles and napkins and other items Homo sapiens are supposed to drop into trash cans?
C: Very funny, Kurt. No, for us litter means the uppermost layer of the forest floor, consisting mostly of fallen leaves and other decaying organic matter. The organisms most responsible for turning those leaves into decay are bacteria, fungi, and termites, and they are called decomposers. If you prefer, I’ll call it ground matter. Ground matter is extremely important to us in so many ways. It's a place where we can relax in relative safety and hide from our enemies. You heard about Cocoa, didn't you? He hated staying in ground matter, said it made him claustrophobic. Refused to come down from the trees. Well, he met his maker last week.
K: Yes, I heard, and I'm so sorry.
C: Anyhow, in ground matter we also find food and extra moisture when we need it. Young coquís stay in ground matter until they are old enough to venture out, and adult coquís use it as a safe place to build their nests. You just can't call a place home without a nice little pile of ground matter!
K: And what kinds of neighborhoods do you find we most avoid?
C: Dry ones! We need rainfall, we need wet conditions. This is sooo important. If we don't have a lot of rain, we have trouble finding food, we have difficulty climbing trees, and we can't move quickly. Dryness is especially harmful to our young. Why, they won't even come out of their refuges on dry nights. Not too many people know this, Kurt, but the main factor limiting the coquí population in El Yunque is not food shortages but occasional dry conditions. Let me explain. Like every living creature, we need certain requirements in order to survive—food, water, shelter, the right temperature, and so on. If we don’t have enough of one requirement, we will not live well, and we may even die. This is called a limiting factor, and for us water is a limiting factor. If the forest has a drought, we suffer. Our young, our juveniles, will die very quickly, and we adults will not be able to reproduce, and eventually we too will die. Did you know that?
K: No, I didn't, Carmen, but I've got it all down, and I'll write it all up. Thank you so much for talking with us. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
C: Yes, there is. Kurt, I'd like your readers to know that I have a very nice home for sale two trees down from here. It has a great view and plenty of ground matter at its base.
K: Was it recently vacated?
C: Well, yes it was. The last owner was killed by a Puerto Rican screech owl who's been marauding the neighborhood.
K: Oh. Well, maybe we shouldn't mention the screech owl?
C: Maybe not. It might make it harder to sell.
K: Goodbye then, Carmen, and thank you so much for sharing your success and knowledge with me and our readers.