Coqui frogs not welcomed in Waimea

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
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Coqui Noise Unwelcome in Waimea

Special to NHN

High-decibel coqui frogs are calling in Waimea, and residents are fighting back.

“We are blessed by many things here, including the peaceful silence of our Hawaiian nights. No one wants to lose that quiet,” Joyce O’Connor said. “We don’t have to give up our community to coqui frogs.”

She and Kathy Rawle, both U’ikeoni Street residents, invited Ray McGuire, Vertebrate Control Coordinator for the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, to address a neighborhood meeting.

“We went door to door to pass out flyers for the meeting and to collect contact information. Not everyone had heard the frogs yet, so we are raising awareness that the problem is here,” Rawle said.

She and O’Connor were encouraged to see 20 people, including representatives of two additional neighborhoods, show up at their meeting held last week.

“That this many people would come out, kids in tow, on a school and work night, shows that there is a good understanding of what’s at stake,” O’Connor said

Coqui expert McGuire talked about the noisy pest and how to prevent a major infestation. He also dispelled some of the myths about the frogs, especially the belief that Waimea is too cold for them.

“They may call at longer intervals,” he said, “and they may be quiet for periods of time, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t active.”

Without predators and with our humidity, male coqui frogs can reproduce at explosive rates compared to males in Puerto Rico, their native habitat. Once the numbers climb, so does the noise level. Now is the opportunity to prevent that, while the numbers are small.

Another myth is that chickens will take care of the problem.

“Chickens scratch in the ground during the day, and if they encounter frogs or eggs they will eat them, but you can’t really train chickens to go looking for frogs,” McGuire said. And frogs are active at night while chickens sleep.

McGuire stressed prevention, cars and potted plants being the primary methods coqui frogs use to enter new areas.

“If your car has been parked in infested areas, especially at night and near vegetation, when you come home try to park in an open area and watch for any frogs that may have hitched a ride with you,” he said.

Give new plants a good two-minute shower and catch any frogs that jump out. He also strongly recommended repotting the plants in fresh potting material to eliminate eggs.

At the end of the meeting, McGuire took a small group out to catch their first frog.

A few nights later, after a daytime visit to assess terrain, a team of four went out to locate two more frogs heard calling. They caught one and planned on going back soon for the other.

“Being able to locate the frogs in itself felt like a victory,” said Jonathan Rawle. “That we got one, and nearly got the other, was thrilling.”

“It was very exciting to know that you don’t have to be an expert to do it,” O’Connor agreed. “A headlamp is about all you need, because it takes two hands to catch them.”

Long-term success of the effort, Kathy Rawle stressed, will be participation.

“Now people are going to be listening as they drive home after dark, and we hope they’ll take more evening walks to patrol.”

Offers to join the hunt are coming in, too.

She also stressed the importance of gaining permission to go on properties at night. “We don’t want to scare anyone, and we don’t want to be mistaken for pigs!”

Both Rawle and O’Connor said they were struck by the unexpected benefits of meeting neighbors, working together on a common problem and-especially-a very rewarding feeling of silencing a frog.