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Singer: Tiny frogs, big lies

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Sydney Ross Singer | Medical Anthropologist, Biologist, Author

Real problems don’t need lies and propaganda.

The legitimate concern about preventing noxious pests from entering Hawaii is being undermined by the use of exaggeration and lies to promote the invasive species control agenda.

A recent anti-coqui propaganda article, by The Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy and released Christmas Day, continues spreading the lies and exaggerations that characterizes the media discussion of coqui frogs.

Entitled “Coqui Numbers Rising,” the article states, “The frogs already have a strong foothold on the Big Island, and people there complain of being kept awake at night with a thunderous roar of chirps as thousands of male coqui simultaneously summon partners — a mating chorus some say can be as loud as a jet airplane.”

(Photo courtesy of Sydney Ross Singer)

Later the article says, “Residents there (of Hauula on Oahu) heard nocturnal chirping, but didn’t call the state’s pest control hotline because they thought birds were making the sounds. By the time the authorities were notified, the frogs had been around and breeding for two years.”

Isn’t it interesting that a “thunderous roar” as loud as a “jet airplane” can also be mistaken as bird sounds and be allowed to persist for two years?

The sound has been a major exaggeration point to justify the war against coquis. Utah State University researcher Karen Beard, one of the few scientists to actually study the coqui in Hawaii, states in her research that the coqui’s chirp reaches 73 decibels at half a meter away.

Realize that the intensity of sound decreases exponentially with distance, so the coqui sounds much lower than that when it is singing from trees many meters away. (For comparison, normal conversation between 3-5 feet is 60-70 decibels. The dial tone in a telephone is 80 decibels. City traffic (inside car) is 85 decibels. Chamber music inside a small auditorium is 75-85 decibels.

Newspapers and their government agency sponsors, however, falsely claim the coqui’s chirp can reach 100 decibels. (Jet airplane noise, used in the AP article as a comparison with the frog sound, is 140 decibels at 100 feet.) Some frog haters even say the coqui sound can be so loud that it can cause hearing loss, which happens at 140 decibels.

I have repeatedly tried to correct the media and government about this inflated decibel claim, but their sales pitch requires the exaggeration so the 100 decibel myth is kept alive.

I can tell you now, as someone living in a rainforest inhabited (not “infested”) by as many coquis as can exist in any area, that my hearing has not in any way been impacted by the coqui chorus. Our three story open-air house in the jungle also has no windows, so we hear the sound full on, and at tree height close to the coquis.

My family, visitors, and almost all the neighbors I know in the Puna area throughout which coquis are well established, love the coqui’s sound. Others have given up trying to kill them.

We also appreciate the biocontrol services the little frogs provide, controlling termites, ants, roaches, mosquitoes, and even fire ants. (Hopefully, they will also control the scale insects the government plans to release to attack strawberry guava.)

As for their numbers, they reduce and stabilize after they peak upon entering a new area. That is the common pattern for all introduced species, including insects. Populations soar at first, and then decline to a sustainable equilibrium.

Has there been harm to the environment? None has been documented. Given that most of their diet consists of invasive insects, coquis are good for agriculture, and before the massive hype against them the state Department of Agriculture did not care about their presence, saying that all frogs are good for agriculture since they eat plant pests. (The government introduced several frog species in the past to control insects.)

Are there predators to control coqui numbers? Yes, including birds, cats, rodents, and any species that would eat a small creature the size of an insect. In fact, one of the biggest predators of coquis are other coquis, which is why the males protect their babies.

Are they bad for property values? A study by UH wanted to show that they were in order to justify coqui control, but despite their bias they only found that the presence of coquis may impact home prices by a few hundred dollars for a half million dollar property.

Of course, the study had a political agenda, which studies should not have if they want to be objective and truly scientific. Despite the bias, however, little if any impact was found.

But when you multiply that small amount by all the property in the state, it can sound like a large number, so that is what the “experts” did to frighten homeowners into accepting more coqui control.

Are the frogs impacting Big Island tourism? Most tourists think the sound of the coqui is a bird chirping, and not a jet engine or table saw or leaf blower, as characterized by the propaganda.

Even the AP article admits tourism has not been impacted, although it states, “The frogs aren’t stopping tourists from visiting, but there’s a fear they could if they spread further.”

Fear. It’s all about fear. Fear sells. And the service they are selling is killing frogs. But it’s all based on lies.

The coqui frog issue in Hawaii has been characterized by lies since invasive species money became available in 1999. Back then, the lie was that the only way to kill the coqui frogs was with caffeine, and an emergency exemption from the EPA was obtained to test concentrated caffeine on the frogs and the environment as a pesticide.

This was the first time caffeine would have been used as a pesticide. If it worked, caffeine would be the new wonder pesticide, killing snails, slugs, and frogs. (Nobody in the world tried to develop a pesticide for frogs before. Everywhere in the world besides Hawaii, governments are trying to protect frogs, which are declining to extinction levels.)

As it happened, the UH owns the patent on the gene for caffeine, which geneticists at UH were able to extract from coffee plants. This meant that caffeine could be made cheaply in the lab by inserting the gene into bacteria. As the bacteria grow they produce caffeine, which can be extracted much cheaper than by extracting caffeine from plants, as is now done.

Once the conflict of interest was uncovered, the EPA withdrew the emergency exemption for testing caffeine. Suddenly, the “experts” realized that citric acid works, too. But a cheaper alternative was desired, and another emergency exemption from the EPA was obtained, this time to test hydrated lime as a pesticide.

Of course, hydrated lime is caustic to humans, too, and can cause irreversible eye and lung damage on contact. And some stupid people, hyped up by the sky is falling rhetoric of anti-coqui propaganda, sprayed the caustic powder into trees with leaf blowers, endangering themselves and everyone within breathing distance.

Eventually it was realized that the hydrated lime didn’t work, so now citric acid is the only legal pesticide of choice, as you spray the forests with acid to coat the frogs and burn them to death along with other non-target animals and plants.

Of course, burning frogs to death is cruelty to animals. So the government, to protect itself from lawsuits, passed a law defining the coqui as a pest to get around the humane laws, which exclude pests from protection.

Blinded by their rage against the tiny frog, the Hawaii Department of Education agreed to participate in a “Coqui Bounty Hunter” campaign, encouraging Big Island students to go out and kill as many frogs as possible and bring the dead frogs to school.

The school with the most “kills” would then receive the violent video games, PlayStation 3 and Xbox. But the plan was abandoned at the last minute once education officials realized that cruelty to animals is not good to teach children.

UH scientists have continued their investigation into ways to kill coquis and will continue to do so as long as funding exists. Recent efforts were to introduce a fungus as a biocontrol to kill the coquis. The fungus was also expected to kill lizards and other frog species, but since all these are not “native” to Hawaii the scientists didn’t care.

“So what if all the geckos also die. They don’t belong here,” the scientists insisted. Of course, if the scientists were paid to protect the frogs instead of killing them, then they would be singing a different tune.

This use of science as a political tool to promote certain agendas turns science into sales, and scientists into propagandists. Intelligent citizens see the hype, which creates doubt and distrust and suggests hidden agendas and motives.

And there is good reason to doubt the coqui paranoia. This same coqui frog is also the darling of Puerto Rico, where it is considered “native.” There, the sound of the coqui is cherished, and the tiny frog is considered the national animal. Clearly, this frog cannot be so bad if a culture has embraced it so dearly.

In fact, the coqui is really not bad at all, and is now loved by many in Hawaii. However, like all change, it can take some people time to get used to the new sound of the night. And it is this fear of change that eradicators are preying upon to get more funding for their activities.

But for many, having the coqui is an improvement over hearing urban noises, such as traffic. The coqui chirping becomes a soothing background sound, like listening to crickets. (Not surprisingly, an anti-cricket war was waged several decades ago in Hawaii which, like the coqui war, also failed.)

There has not been any real damage to the environment, tourism, or housing prices caused by the coquis. But there has been damage caused by the coqui war. The government has now spent over a decade demonizing these poor tree frogs and wasting tens of millions of dollars spraying our forests with acid and lime.

Property rights have been eroded as laws have been passed to allow government trespass to kill coquis. Children have been taught that if you don’t like the sound of something, then go and kill it. And the public has learned it is OK to spray the forests with acids and other chemicals to kill anything you don’t like, regardless of the collateral damage.

And maybe this is the basis for this frog war. It promotes pest control services. And this benefits the pest control industry. Invasive species control is highly promoted by chemical companies, which have slyly marketed their poisons as environmental solutions.

Using the boisterous coqui tree frog as a poster child for invasive species control ultimately only serves the interests of Monsanto and other chemical companies that supply the chemical munitions for these environmental wars.

Whatever the real reason for this ongoing attack on the coqui frog, it certainly has nothing to do with the frogs. It is something that is being hidden from the public. Real problems don’t require lies and exaggeration to prompt solutions.

(Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist and director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease. To find out more about the Hawaiian coqui, visit, and see Singer’s book, “Panic In Paradise: Invasive Species Hysteria and the Hawaiian Coqui Frog War” ISCD Press, 2005.)

7 Responses to “Singer: Tiny frogs, big lies”

  1. FrogDisliker says:

    Ahh…a “pro-coqui propoganda” article…

    • Joseph says:

      Yep…this article definitely borders on propaganda with many broad generalities and assumptions.

      The coqui problems is just the latest chapter in the book “Invasive Species Inspection Ineptness 101” written by Administration after Administration over the past 100 years. When will it change?

      Puna and other parts of the island have lost the sound of the night. The coqui have literally taken over the conversation. Night in, night out it’s the same sound, and it’s loud. I have measured coqui decibel levels in Puna at 100+.

      Something I appreciate in our locale on Kona side (Coqui-free) is the variety of night sounds, always changing over the course of the year. Variety is a good thing on many levels. Yet, inevitably another one of Hawaii’s treasures will disappear.

      I feel quite angry about the State Gov’t ineptness effectively inspecting imports for potential invasive species. Amazingly, significantly more energy goes into checking what leaves here than what enters. The ultimate irony – the coquis arrived on a shipment of plants from Puerto Rico. Why in the world is it necessary to import tropical plants from another part of the world into an established tropical paradise. That’s pure insanity and indicative of much ignorance when it comes to environmental understanding and management.

  2. gloria silva says:

    aloha syd,
    i must admit i did fall victim to the hype, untill i had a few invade my space. i didn’t mind there song. and it wasn’t that loud. but, i noticed that mynah birds have a fierce love for the frogs, and they hunted down my group, till i had only a couple, off in the trees. but, now with the cold weather, i hear nothing of the frogs. and my cat seemed to be bothered by their sound, so he hunts them, as well.
    we need all the help we can get with the bugs, if they eat bugs, they don’t bug me.

  3. nani km pogline says:

    When I go to Oahu, I can’t sleep because there are no soothing coqui songs that I have become so accustom to here on the Big Island. Instead, there are loud traffic noises. Many people have taken a liking to them, and have decided to welcome them as a new identity for the Big Island. Except for those who are overly sensitive to sounds at night, they seem harmless enough. Certainly they provide some bio-control benefits, with “no significant impact” to the environment. Why would funds be wasted on eradicating the coqui, when our precious bees are in desperate need of help?

    • basil_leaf66 says:

      If you want to hear the coqui frogs so much, get a CD and play near you when you sleep. Why do you feel that you HAVE TO DISTURB EVERYONE around you just so you can have what you want? My god, you are one evil, selfish person. Do you know that the MAJORITY of the human population requires QUIET ENVIRONMENT to sleep. You are in the minority and you deem it necessary to disrupt everyone else so you can get what you want? If you want to hear the coqui frogs so much, then go to Puerto Rico…. these coqui frogs are NOT native to Hawaii and Hawaiian do NOT like them.

  4. TT says:

    I live in Houston, TX for almost 40 yrs. Whenever we have Hurricane, the storm carries the coqui frogs from Puerto Rico. I suffer for weeks with their LOUD (I mean LOUD) “chirping” as you called it. Their mating calls would startled me from sleep. I have heart issues with this pests. It took me 2 weeks and HYDRATED LIME powder (from Home Depot) to KILL ALL OF THEM!!! The WHO (World Health Organization) declared them as pests.
    Hawaiian have been living without them for centuries. These frogs were introduced in 1988 and people are suffering ever since.
    STOP YOUR LIES!!!! I have personally hear HOW LOUD a single frog can call.
    I am HOPING that ALL of the coqui frogs are KILLED on ALL of Hawaiian islands!!!!

  5. basil_leaf66 says:

    Hey Singer, STOP spreading LIES!! How is it that Hawaiian laws CLEARLY stated that it is “ILLEGAL” to harbor and transport coqui frogs and yet you are still there? I am working to make sure the Government and people will either KICK you off the Big Island or put your family in jail for knowingly causing problem to the people of Hawaii. Do you know HOW MUCH MONEY is spent on hunting and managing the coqui infestation on other islands?… because of you.

    I hope you go to JAIL and your property is taken away from you so the ERADICATING of coqui frogs can complete.


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