Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Who wouldn't welcome the incredibly loud, high-pitched, nighttime mating call of the coqui?
Coqui frogs are kind of adorable, if you’re into amphibians. But if you’ve ever visited Hawaii, where the two-inch-long frogs are numerous, you’ve probably heard the sound that drives locals crazy: “Ko-kee,” their high-pitched mating call. From dusk to dawn, male frogs trill at 90 decibels, roughly the sound of a power mower.
Now Los Angeles is getting its own introduction to these chirp-tastic neighbors. On a frog-finding expedition with reporter Jason Goldman, Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, found nearly 100 coquis hiding out in an L.A. County wholesale nursery. It wasn’t a surprise; L.A. has a major port, and is home to countless other invasive species. But given Hawaii’s experience, the influx might spell sleepless nights for L.A. residents.
In their native Puerto Rico, coquis have been kept under control by natural predators. But in Hawaii, where the frogs likely arrived via the nursery trade in the 1980s, the coquis chirp unchecked. On the Big Island, some of the worst-hit areas are infested with more than 10,000 of the frogs per acre. According to the L.A. Times, the Hawaiian and federal governments have spent millions on coqui control and remediation. But for many communities, the efforts haven’t helped with sleep disruption—or with the frogs’ effect on property values. Goldman writes at KCET:
According to a 2006 study, property values can even decline in areas of high coqui density to the tune of 0.16 percent. On the Big Island, that would represent a combined loss of about $7.6 million dollars if the frogs spread to all residential neighborhoods.
Pauly says that at least a few frogs have spread beyond that L.A. County greenhouse into residential neighborhoods. “I’ve had three reports in the last two weeks,” he says. “It’s always the same thing: People who say they can’t sleep because of this animal.”
Are coquis likely to overwhelm Southern California, the way they did in Hawaii? Since they thrive in warm, humid places, Pauly doesn’t worry too much about those lone frogs reproducint in Angelenos’ backyards, since the climate is generally arid.
But if they found their way to somewhere like the L.A. River or a big, lush golf course, that might be another story. “That’s my big worry,” says Pauly. “We have these artificial, manmade habitats where there is abundant water.”
Coquis, welcome to the paved paradise.