Dr. Richard P. Elinson is a professor within the Department of Biological Sciences at Duquesne University. He’s also a neighbor of mine, and one day I learned that he worked with frogs–Puerto Rican frogs, to be exact–Coquí (Eleutherodactylus Coqui). When he told me about their mating call, “Co qui!” I asked if that could be turned into a ringtone. Lucky for those of us who like using and making home grown ringtones, Dr. Elinson said yes to my request!
One night this summer I went with Elinson (a.k.a. Rick) to his lab at Duquesne University (my alma mater, BTW). Coquí don’t start singing until the sun sets, and you wouldn’t want to disturb their business by turning on the lights, so we waited til our eyes adjusted to the little wedge of light softly beaming in from an adjacent office door. I squatted (literally) amidst the Coquí for 7 minutes or so, moving the mic in different directions listening carefully to try and pick up the best audio I could.
Rick told me that only the male frogs sing (it actually sounded like chirping to me). “Co” means “Stay away, fellows!” and “Qui” is the male frogs’ call for the female frogs to “Come hither!” [My loose translation here--not a literal translation.] Rick explained that this fact has been demonstrated experimentally–you can play a “Co” or “Qui” chirp and see how the frogs respond.
I went back to the lab in broad daylight to photograph the frogs. I learned that the Coquí doesn’t have a tadpole. “It’s an evolutionary change,” Rick shared, “its ancestors had tadpoles, but it no longer does. And that’s what we’re considering–how did something like that evolve?” When I asked Dr. Elinson about the affect of his lab’s research on the world or within our community, he said, “Anybody who has an interest in the world around them is affected by this kind of research. It enriches our world and our experience in it. If you know that the Coquí don’t have to go into the water to have babies, that enriches your experience of being in the forest.” Right on, Dr. Elinson!
And the Coquí embryos are beautiful. If I were a glass maker, after seeing the “babies,” I’d want to make a whole series of marbles based on the embryos. Except I’d make the froggies inside the marbles different colors…
Rick doesn’t have a cell phone. “My wife wonders when or if I’ll ever do that, but let me tell you–if a cell phone could sound or ‘call’ like a Coquí, it might be the exact incentive I need to get one.”
If you are a Pittsburgher who wants to hear the Coquí in person, Rick suggests going to Phipps Conservatory on one of the nights they are open late. Elinson’s lab has placed some Coquí in the butterfly room. As he put it, “So outside of Puerto Rico and Hawaii [and the Virgin Islands], the Coquí are now living in Pittsburgh, too.”
What does Pittsburgh sound like? Puerto Rican Coquí! Here’s a short and sweet (3 chirp) Coquí Message Alert and the super lovely Coquí Mating Call Ringtone. Listen to this tone the whole way through to hear the excitingly syncopated “Qui Qui Qui Qui!” call that happens a few times near the end of the track. Sounded to me like one of those male frog cats was pretty darn excited…
Special thanks to the artist (and my dear friend and audio editing project advisor) Nick Fox-Gieg for helping me with some audio editing on this tone. The Coquí lab had a generator or HVAC sound that Nick worked some editing magic on to bring the machine sound down and the frog chirping up. His animated work is incredible. Visit http://www.fox-gieg.com/ to see his masterful motion picture work. This, the Foxhole Manifesto, is one of my favorites from his recent work. Watch this one if you want to see some animals–Peace Through Strength–a thoughtful and beautifully draw treatment of a poem by Lewis Carroll.