Experts explain how invasive coqui frogs are arriving on Oahu

After three determined neighbors caught a coqui frog in Kaimuki, we wanted to know more about what the state is doing to keep the noisy pests off Oahu.

Officials told us they catch dozens of them on Oahu, about 24 to 40 each year.

Coqui frogs are already established on Hawaii island, but the Department of Agriculture says it hasn’t seen an increase of coqui on Oahu or other islands, because crews eradicate them as soon as they get a call.

The majority of coqui frogs found on other islands come through shipments of nursery plants from Hawaii island.

More coqui tend to pop up on Oahu, simply because there are more people, and more shipments.

John McHugh, administrator of the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industry Division, says those shipments need to pass inspection and are treated with either hot water or citric acid.

“Their inspectors can go and observe the actual treatment of the shipment before they give the stamp of approval and say yes, you can go ahead ship that to neighbor islands,” he explained.

But because coqui frogs are the size of a quarter, some of them slip through the cracks, and there are no inspections made after the shipment arrives.

“There is no inspections for materials coming in from the neighbor islands,” said McHugh. “We don’t have enough resources or the man power to do that.”

That’s why nursery owner Rick Barboza of Hui Ku Maoli Ola Native Plants says when shipments come in, his business double-checks for any type of invasive species before and after arrival.

“You can never be too safe when it comes to something that is detrimental to the environment,” Barboza said.

When the nursery received plants from Hawaii island, the shipments were smaller, because it was easier to manage when looking for invasive species.

About four years ago, the nursery stopped receiving plants from Hawaii island altogether, because of the threat of fire ants.

“It’s really unfortunate that all these things are happening on that island, because that island especially is one of the last strongholds of a lot of our native species, and they are the ones that are being most impacted by all of these invasives,” said Barboza.

“I think our group is doing a pretty good job,” said McHugh. “The idea is to eradicate these new populations. As long as the population is small, we can eradicate. If coqui gets established here like they are on the Big Island, there would be 10,000 to 12,000 of them per acre of land, so 40 is not a lot.”

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