Tadpoles are in-between frogs: They are what frogs look like after they hatch from their eggs but before they turn into frogs
There was a pond at the end of my block where all the kids liked to catch tadpoles, frogs, and turtles. When we first moved in to this neighborhood, my mother didn’t let us go there. She was afraid we’d fall in, and my mother’s motto is safety first. And second and third.
Finally, this year we were old enough to ride our bikes to the pond with the other kids. I couldn’t wait. In winter, nothing much is doing at the pond. But during the summer it’s alive with life — all kinds of bugs, ducks, and bullfrogs. I looked out over the peaceful pond. A few ducks were swimming farther away. Living in their pond, playing around on the lily pads and the muddy water, and eating the flies and mosquitos must be what they call a good life.
It was a humid day with dragonflies flying low over the water. Kids were there in their boots with nets and buckets, trying to catch all kinds of things. “Can you catch fish?” I asked my neighbor.
“There are fish in there but I never heard of anyone catching one — they don’t swim near the side. But tadpoles do.”
I bent down, and sure enough, I saw fat little brown blobs with tails swimming busily near the edge. My brother borrowed someone’s net and between us we caught five tadpoles and put them, with some pond water, into what used to be the dishpan.
I don’t know if you know that tadpoles are in-between frogs: They are what frogs look like after they hatch from their eggs but before they turn into frogs. Frogs are amphibians, which means “two lives” because they live the first part of their life in the water, as tadpoles, and the second part on land, as frogs. I couldn’t wait to see these little tadpoles turn into froglets (what they’re called once they sprout legs) and then to frogs.
My neighbor gave us instructions: Put the bucket with the tadpoles outside in a shady spot where they won’t get too hot in the sun. They need to live in the pond water that they’re used to because it doesn’t have chemicals in it like most sink water does and because it has mosquito eggs that they like to eat. Put some grass and weeds into the water for them, and watch them grow. Ours were small tadpoles, he said, sizing them up with his eye, so it might take a while for them to turn into frogs. It sounded easy and fun!
But when we got home and put the heavy dishpan on the patio, my father looked up instructions for turning tadpoles into frogs (called metamorphosis), and it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. We were supposed to make sure the water temperature was the same as the pond they lived in, because frogs, which are coldblooded like snakes and lizards, won’t keep their body temperature at what it should be if the water’s too cold or too hot. “How could it be any different than it was ten minutes ago, in the pond down the block?” my brother asked. “It’s not like we put the water in the fridge.”
Now what do these things eat? Other than whatever eggs are in the water, they need their owner to do one of the following: buy algae wafers to feed them, boil romaine lettuce and feed it to them in tiny pieces, or go to the pet store and buy special tadpole food. My mother rolled her eyes — we’re not ordering algae wafers, and she told us not to touch her lettuce. She went off to the pet store to buy a small bottle of food.
“Is that enough?” I asked, squinting at the small bottle of black and brown flakes. My brother read the label which said to feed tadpoles just a tiny pinch every other day. Suddenly the tiny bottle looked huge.
Every morning, we ran out to the patio in our pajamas to check on our pets. They definitely looked like they were getting bigger. When their back legs are starting to form, you need to get them fish food. Or you could opt to feed them live water fleas. I wasn’t sure how we could get live water fleas to agree to that, so I asked my mother to get fish food so we’d have it for the day that the back legs started growing.
It took a long time. We put floating things in the dishpan, my sister’s old squishy and the cover of a Tupperware container, so that when their legs grew, they’d have something to hop onto. I couldn’t wait for that day. We also collected large rocks for them to sit on.
Here was a big job: changing their water. When I won a goldfish at school, we kept it in a little bowl that was easy to change (we used the soup ladle to scoop Fishel out when it was time to change the water) but a big dishpan full of water, uneaten tadpole food, leaves, and my sister’s squishy was hard to handle. Sopping wet from the water that spilled, I couldn’t help admiring the world of the pond in which all this happens without people having to do a thing — frogs lay eggs, the pond takes care of the rest, and then one night, you hear funny bullfrog noises when you pass by.
Finally, just as we were starting to think that we’d caught the breed of tadpole that just never turned into frogs, we saw tiny front legs sticking out of one, and the next day, sticking out of the other three. Their heads also somehow looked more defined, less like a blob. Their tails got shorter because they were being absorbed into their body as food. They continued to swim in the water. One morning we woke up, ran for the patio, and saw only three tadpoles.
“What happened to the other one?”
“He probably turned into a frog and hopped out,” my sister suggested. We searched the grass but didn’t find him.
“Now he’s not going to have water, which he needs. I think this is the part where you follow the instructions that say ‘release the frogs back into their natural habitat,’ ” she added.
We’d been working very hard for more than four weeks so we could have pets. My brother arranged to have our neighbor’s older brother, who learned to drive last week, take us to the pet store to buy a tank. “Be ready to leave for the pet store right after camp,” my brother reminded me as we said goodbye to the frogs and ran for the bus.
On the bus ride home from camp, we couldn’t stop talking about the tank we’d buy. I hoped our money was enough for a decent-sized tank — the frogs would want room to hop. As the bus rounded the corner at the pond, sun was shining on the water. A pair of ducks sat far out on the other side. The water was so much deeper and bigger than anything we could put in a tank. The big sky was above.
“I don’t want to go to the pet store,” I told my brother. First, he looked at me like I was crazy, then shrugged. I didn’t have to tell him where I thought we should take the frogs. Together, we walked the heavy dishpan back to the pond with the three frogs who were almost ready to make a hop for it, and we slowly poured them and their water back into the pond.
The next day, we found the first frog sitting next to a big puddle on the patio, where the sun slanted onto him to warm his blood. He looked happy to be there, so I didn’t think we needed to go back to the pond with him. For a minute I figured that if he lives at our address anyway, maybe he wouldn’t mind living in a tank, but then I shook my head. I’d let him decide where he wanted to be.
Here’s a riddle for all you junior herpetologists (fancy word for people who study amphibians): What’s green, croaks, and eats annoying mosquitos? Helpful hint: They jumped into ovens in Mitzrayim. You got it! Frogs! Which, by the way, are not all green, don’t all croak, and don’t all enjoy mosquitos for supper. Well, would you?!
Frogs are a fascinating type of creature (even when not jumping into ovens) called amphibians, a group which includes frogs, toads, and salamanders. Most animal young live near or with their parents, but not amphibians — they start life as eggs, then go through a stage in which they live in the water and breathe through gills. After undergoing metamorphosis (which means change), they grow back legs and hop out onto land. They begin to breathe air into their lungs, much as mammals do, but they can also absorb oxygen through their skin in the water, like fish.
Frogs are an important part of our ecosystem. Found in almost all parts of the world, they come in 5,000 known varieties, with more being discovered every year. Why are they so important? They help people by eating mosquitos, flies, and other pesky insects.
Meet three fantastic frogs
Panamanian toads are all over rural and suburban areas of Panama (a country in Central America). They are beautiful — if you like pointed warts, which they have all over them. They also have poison glands on top of their head full of toxic goop designed to hurt predators who try to eat them. But wait — toxic goop is not all bad. Scientists discovered a chemical in the poison that kills parasites that cause Chagas disease, a tropical disease that kills 10,000 people per year.
Other poison frogs inject a secretion that acts as a painkiller into prey they are about to kill. Scientists are researching how this painkiller, which is many times stronger than morphine (which is much stronger than Advil or Tylenol) can be used for humans.
Poison dart frog, the most poisonous animal on earth (don’t even touch their skin!) eats ants and other small insects that have toxic chemicals in their bodies. They store ants’ toxic molecules in their glands and can use them against predators who come to attack them. When a predator attacks, they bite into the poison inside the frog, causing convulsions and sometimes death. When kept in zoos and fed non-toxic bugs, poison dart frogs are not poisonous. (But they probably still like being called by that cool name).
Why are they called poison dart frogs? Native peoples in the areas of South and Central America where these frogs live coat their arrows (darts) with the frog poisons, so that when they hunt, an arrow plants poison into the animal’s bloodstream. An arrow that makes its mark kills the monkey or other animal in minutes. They use fewer arrows this way, relying on the poison to kill, rather than several arrows that might be required to bring an animal down.
European common brown frog has substances on its skin which can be developed into new antibiotics. The search for new antibiotics is very important since many bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics we have.
Why, you ask, is this useful antibiotic frog common and brown, while poison frogs in the tropics come in bright, stunning colors? Beautiful colors are nice, but they are nature’s warning light: Don’t come near! Poison here! Animals who live near the bright blue or green frogs have learned (probably the hard way) that they should stay away.
There is research being done for ways that frogs can be developed into important medicines!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 873)
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