frogs

The Welcoming Coquí

Photo of a coquí frog. Héctor Caolo Álvarez-Photographer

By Lina Younes,

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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

Photo of a coquí frog. Héctor Caolo Álvarez-Photographer

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hey, Kids! This is Earth Calling. Are you Listening?

student

Reprinted with permission from Bay Soundings.

Habitat loss, pollution, homeless animals…and kids can’t do anything to make a difference. Right? Wrong! Kids can definitely improve our world, even our very own Tampa Bay. Let me share some of what I do. Using the website www.ConserveItForward.com, I support three non-profit groups that 1) help people get safe drinking water around the world using biosand water filters, 2) promote the conservation of amphibians and their importance to our environment, and 3) run my favorite local nature preserve.

I raise awareness through my website, live presentations and running my booth at places like schools, zoos and festivals. I also sometimes raise money through my business where 100% of the profit benefits my three groups.

Now I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite topics: frogs. Frogs are an indicator species. Does that mean they are fortune tellers? Well, they won’t read your palm, but they do read the environment. Frogs have permeable skin, which means chemicals pass through it easily, so they are one of the first species to be harmed in their habitat. If there is a healthy population of native frogs in Tampa, then we know we are doing something right. If there is not a healthy native population, then something is wrong and we must act quickly. Many people do not know that 1/3 of the world’s amphibian species face extinction. According to www.SavetheFrogs.com, approximately 200 amphibian species have disappeared since 1980 and that is not normal.

So how do we know if frogs are healthy in Tampa? Well, first we have to know which ones are here. One way we can do that is by listening to them. You do not need a college degree to be a frog listener, but you do need to know what frogs you are hearing. That leads me to my favorite citizen science project, where you attend workshops to learn about frogs and their calls. Next, you collect data about the frogs you hear and send it to scientists. They need lots of data. If you want to be a local frog listener, Lowry Park Zoo hosts a FrogWatch USA chapter. Go to www.aza.org/frogwatch to learn more.

I love sharing with other kids how easy it is to help frogs and our environment. You can build frog habitats with things you have around your house like old Tupperware and PVC pipes. Ask your parents to not use so many chemicals in the yard. If you get a pet amphibian, make sure it was captive bred and not taken from the wild. Also, if you have a pet cat, don’t let it go outdoors unleashed because they enjoy pouncing, and that is not good for frogs and other small critters.

No matter what the topic is, I challenge you to find a project you love that will help our world. Create your own project or for ideas, visit www.SciStarter.com or www.CampBayou.org. Once you choose your project, act on it, encourage others to do the same — and we can all conserve it forward!

Avalon Theisen of ConserveItForward.com has been recognized internationally for her conservation efforts. With a goal of working for National Geographic when she grows up, her hobbies include traveling abroad and animal handling.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The New Canary in the Coal Mine

I recently saw the Disney Movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” in which the animators recreated the colorful and melodious experience of the Louisiana Bayou. As suggested by the title, the frogs of the Bayou played a stellar role. As I watched the movie with my youngest, I was thinking of the vulnerabilities of these precious wetlands and growing threats to their inhabitants—the frogs.

With the ongoing debate over the health and environmental effects of climate change on animals, increasingly, frogs and their fellow amphibians are becoming the new “canaries in the coal mine.” Since amphibians’ skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature, they are considered a “sentinel” species, hence, the term of the “canary in the coal mine.”

There are over five thousand species of amphibians worldwide. Many live throughout North America. In Puerto Rico, our favorite amphibian is the coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus comes from the Greek meaning free toes. Coquí, its popular name, refers to its high decibel chirp “co-KEE.” In general, these amphibians have adapted well to urban sprawl on the Island, however, pollution is taking its toll. While over 16 species are endemic to Puerto Rico, several coquí species are currently threatened. Some species known by their popular Spanish names haven’t been heard in years. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, these small frogs have been introduced to neighboring Islands, Florida and even Hawaii where they are considered an invasive pest.

We all can do something to protect wildlife and the environment in our daily lives. How can we help protect the frogs and their fellow amphibians from environmental contaminants in our own back yard? Well, one of the first steps is to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in our lawn that are carried by runoff and end up polluting their aquatic habitats miles away. By planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees in your garden you also minimize the need for using toxic chemicals around your home. While I don’t recommend kissing a frog, please help protect it and its habitat. A healthy environment is a gift for all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Un nuevo canario en la mina de carbón

Recientemente vi la película de Disney, “La princesa y la rana” en la cual los animadores proyectaron la colorida y melodiosa experiencia de los pantanos de Luisiana. Como sugiere el título, las ranas de esa área pantanosa desempeñan un papel estelar. Mientras veía la película con mi hija menor, pensaba en la condición precaria de estos preciados humedales y las crecientes amenazas a sus habitantes, las ranas.

A medidas que transcurre el continuo debate sobre los efectos a la salud y al medio ambiente del cambio climático en animales, las ranas y sus compañeros anfibios se están convirtiendo en los “nuevos canarios en la mina de carbón”. Como la piel de los anfibios es permeable, estas creaturas son más susceptibles a los contaminantes y cambios en sus hábitats acuáticos. Por su misma naturaleza, son considerados como una especie “centinela” encargada de avisar la llegada del enemigo o condiciones peligrosas, de ahí viene el término, “canario en la mina”.

Hay más de cinco mil especies de anfibios a nivel mundial. Muchos viven en Norteamérica. En Puerto Rico, nuestro anfibio predilecto es el coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus proviene del griego y significa dedos libres. Coquí es el nombre popular y se refiere a la onomatopeya de su cantar. En general estos anfibios se han podido adaptar bien al crecimiento demográfico en la Isla, sin embargo, la contaminación está teniendo efectos adversos. Mientras más de 16 especies son endémicas a Puerto Rico, varias especies se encuentran amenazadas en la actualidad. Algunas de estas especies con nombres populares como coquí de Eneida, coquí palmeado, caqui dorado del Cayey, coquí guajón, coquí martillito y coquí caoba, no se han escuchado en años. Como he mencionado en blogs anteriores, estos pequeños anfibios han llegado a islas vecinas, Florida y hasta las islas de Hawái donde son consideradas como una especie invasora.

Todos podemos poner de nuestra parte para proteger a la vida silvestre y al medio ambiente en nuestras vidas diarias. ¿Cómo podemos proteger a las ranas y demás anfibios de los contaminantes medioambientales en nuestros propios jardines? Bueno, una de las primeras cosas que debemos hacer es reducir el uso de productos pesticidas y fertilizantes químicos en nuestro césped las escorrentías llevan y luego contaminan sus hábitats acuáticos a millas de distancia. Al sembrar hierbas, arbustos y árboles autóctonos en su jardín también puede minimizar la necesidad de usar sustancias químicas tóxicas alrededor de su hogar. Aunque no recomiendo que bese una rana, por favor, ayude a protegerlas y su medio ambiente. Un medio ambiente saludable es el mejor regalo para todos por igual.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Coquis and EPA

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Saludos-Greetings-Aloha to one and all in the new year.

When I wrote last May about the unwelcomed arrival of the Puerto Rican coqui frogs to Hawaiian shores, little did I know that there was going to be such a heated debate in blogosphere. Personal feelings aside, the multiple responses received motivated me to actually find out what is the Agency’s role in addressing the growth of the coqui population throughout the 50th state. After making several calls and sending some emails, I was surprised to find that EPA’s role is limited.

In fact, the Agency was asked to step in the control efforts when the State of Hawaii needed an exemption to use an unregistered product to control the coquis. EPA is involved in this issue because products sold and used as pesticides must be evaluated and approved by the Agency under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to ensure they can be used safety and without posing any unreasonable risks to people or the environment. In this case, Hawaii has requested an emergency exemption to use an unregistered product (calcium hydroxide or hydrated lime) as a pesticide in a quarantine program to control the invasive species, the Coqui. Hawaii is concerned that the frogs pose a serious threat to both agriculture and to the native Hawaiian forest ecosystems, including endangered species. I have been informed that the Agency is in the process of reviewing this request. Currently, there is a multiagency effort to stop the spread of the coqui in Hawaii led by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

While I confess that this dialogue in Greenversations has been eye-opening, I still yearn for the nocturnal coqui chants I experienced in my youth. Recently a friend asked why the coquís in Hawaii seem so much louder and active than the original coquis in their natural setting. In addition to the invasive nature of the coqui in Hawaii, I think we also can attribute the contrasts largely to the differences in population density and urban sprawl. In Hawaii, the population density is 188.6 inhabitants for square mile. In Puerto Rico, it’s 1,127 inhabitants for square mile! While there are numerous groups to save the coquí in Hawaii let’s not forget the plight of the coqui in Puerto Rico.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Why are Frogs (and Other Amphibians) Declining?

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Steven Whitfield is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University in Miami. His work is funded by a Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Investigating Patterns and processes implicated in enigmatic declines of amphibians and reptiles at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Photo of man holding a brown frogHere’s a picture of me and a Mexican tree frog, (I’m the one on the left).

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with approximately one-third of their species at risk of extinction.

Rapid declines of amphibian populations, even in apparently pristine, protected reserves, have generated much alarm. The causes associated with these “enigmatic declines” are poorly understood.

Through my dissertation research—supported by a GRO Fellowship from EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research—I am investigating a variety of factors associated with population declines, including chytridiomycosis (Amphibian Chytrid Fungus), habitat modification, and climate change, in amphibians and reptiles in the lowland forests of Central America.

That’s where my work at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica comes in.

Photo of man holding a brown frogThe strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) is one of the common species at my field site that is slowly becoming less common.

Amphibians are the most threatened group of vertebrates, with approximately one-third of their species at risk of extinction.

La Selva populations of terrestrial amphibians have declined by 75% since 1970, and similar declines have been noted in terrestrial lizards. It is currently unclear what factors have contributed to these declines, but potential stressors include fungal disease, shifting climate, pesticide drift from nearby agricultural areas, and habitat modification surrounding the La Selva Reserve.

I am using extensive field investigations and synthesis of long-term datasets collected at La Selva. I hope my research will provide important information necessary to protect biological diversity of this important group of animals.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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