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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2004

Toledo, Puerto Rico both have fabulous frogs

Sound effects are needed for this column in order to fully explain what Toledo and Puerto Rico have in common.

It s frogs. Different sizes, different colors, and different sounds, but frogs.

You can t be in Puerto Rico overnight and not be aware of compelling noise. The sound is co-kee, which is rather melodic; you soon look forward to it.

Co-kee is the sound made by tiny tree frogs that are named coqui for the sound. The frogs live throughout the island commonwealth. From sundown until sunrise, thousands serenade anyone within hearing distance.

When it is time to leave the island, you may want to make sure you hear the frogs one last time. So distinct and so encompassing is the song that it has been called the unofficial national anthem of Puerto Rico.

No, you can t bring home two or three of the two-to-three-inch frogs to live and sing in your trees, but you can buy souvenir reminders, ranging from lapel pins, T-shirts, and small stuffed frogs that say co-kee when you push their buttons. Just as the ceiba (also known as the kapok) is the commonwealth tree and the maga, in the hibiscus family, is the island flower, so is the coqui the official commonwealth animal. They are nocturnal, coming out only at night to serenade. Unlike frogs we are more familiar with that have webbed feet, nature provided the coquis with toes and pads to keep them from slipping on smooth surfaces.

The mini frogs have a place in island folklore. Legend has it that they were descended from a beautiful bird that lost its wings. Islanders also say that if you can see one singing it will bring good fortune. After eight nights I never saw a coqui, though the sounds were close enough to be on my shoulder. The little guys blend beautifully with the trees.

I am crazy about a beige-and-white stuffed coqui brought home from the October trip. It s fun to make it sing and remember the beautiful, balmy evenings in the tropical gardens of San Juan and walking on the sandy beach that was lighted by a full moon, all to the background of the frog orchestra.

A $3 coqui pin was purchased at a roadside shop on the way from El Yunque. El Yunque is the island s tropical rain forest, a must-see according to all travel brochures and at hotel tour desks. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I not been paying a cab driver $30 an hour to take me there. The forest is vast and beautiful, but I am sure the intrigue would have tripled after dark.

Why didn t I drive? After all, I rent cars all over the world for touring, but not this time. They say there are three million cars on the island and two million people. Having been in more than one cab and bus in traffic jams, I believe it. Taxi! Just be sure the driver speaks fluent English and that he takes credit cards.

Speaking of frogs, it was no contest in 2001 what icon would be chosen for sculptures that would be associated with Toledo. The city s Frogtown nickname jumped out in full view downtown with frog sculptures fashioned by artists who gave them interesting personalities. A few of the decorative frogs are still around town. And our frog history is more permanently preserved in the terrazzo floor design in the Lucas County Courthouse entry.

The Black Swamp at the western end of Lake Erie was the ideal habitat for a large population of frogs. The Frogtown nickname stuck during the Michigan-Ohio border skirmish in the swamp, and continues to be acknowledged in Toledo. Frogtown Books and the Frogtown Races Regatta are examples.



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