By Lina Younes,
For me, there are very few things that make me feel more “at home” when I visit Puerto Rico than when I listen to the melodious voice of a small little frog called the coquí. Call it nostalgia, call it idyllic musings, but when I hear the nocturnal coquí chants I am transported to my youth in Puerto Rico. So, recently when I returned to the island for the first time in nearly three years, I was very excited when I heard a lone coquí welcoming me on the afternoon of my arrival. It is hard to explain to others who have not grown up with that nocturnal symphony, but it filled me with a sense of internal peace in spite of all the surrounding urban activities at that time. I said to myself: “I’m home.”
There are numerous species of these small amphibians on the islands of Puerto Rico which belong to the Eleutherodactylus genus which in Greek means free toes. When I was growing up, the popular notion was that the coquí frog “could only live in Puerto Rico.” However, over the years I have found out that over 700 different species occur in other areas including Florida, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, and even Hawaii. Yet, in the islands of Hawaii they are an invasive species unlike their Caribbean cousins.
Although the coquí in Puerto Rico seems to have adapted quite well on the islands of Puerto Rico in spite of the urban sprawl, one of the species, the coquí llanero was recently identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) as a threatened species in danger of extinction. FWS is currently taking steps to protect the species in its habitat, a wetland in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. Although you might not notice it by the abundance of coquí chants at night, there has been a decline in the coquí population over the decades. Some of the coquís have also been adversely affected by a certain fungus that attacks their vulnerable skin.
The song of the coquí has inspired numerous poems, songs, and artistic expressions in Puerto Rico. I love listening to
the coquí chants especially after it rains. You can actually hear distinct voices and calls back and forth as if they are having a conversation. I still remember fondly falling asleep with the lull of the coquí. Hope you can enjoy it one day.
About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.