SAVING THE COQUI LLANERO

Coquí frogs are cultural symbols in Puerto Rico, well known for the “ko-kee” call made by the common coquí, Eleutherodactylus coqui. In fact, 16 distinct species can be found on the island — and nowhere else — and each of them has a unique type of call somewhat different from the others.’ Of these frogs, the coquÍ llanero, or Puerto Rican lowland coquí, is the most recently discovered, and it’s one of the smallest tree frogs in the world. Mature llaneros are no wider than a dime and generally yellowish in color, with reversed comma patterns on their sides. Their tiny stature squeezes their vocal range into the highest pitch of almost any frog — just barely audible to human ears. Their calls consist of short, high-pitched notes that last from four to 21 seconds (and sometimes even longer). The frogs begin singing around 4:30 p.m. and continue until midnight.

Now that their call has finally been heard, however, they may be completely wiped out. The coquí llanero is only found in one freshwater wetland in Puerto Rico, and it reproduces on only one plant, the bulltongue arrowhead. Threats to this fragile frog are legion: herbicides, urban and industrial development, a racetrack, toxic substances leaching from a city dump, and a natural gas pipeline in the offing — the Vía Verde pipeline — just to name a few. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted — and in 2012, after a settlement with the Center moving this frog and 756 other species toward protection, the agency finally protected the frog as endangered, as well as designating critical habitat.