Monday, May 24, 2010

Triumph of the traumatised tadpoles

Today is a day for celebration.

My LAST tadpole graduated to froghood!

It's been a long time coming. And not everyone made it.
Out of the 200 mud-wrestling tadpoles I invited into my home, only around a quarter hopped off into the sunset. Floods, desiccation, live burial and serial killers all took their toll.

Poor photo of one of my fingernail-sized froglets (that's a chewed or severely clipped nail). Despite hours lying on my stomach peering at them, I'm still not sure of their species.

Firstly, torrential rain washed many an innocent tadpole over the side of their dish, and then there was the porcupine. Yes, I know porcupines don't eat tadpoles (actually, I don't know this – they seem to eat almost anything), but they are powerfully attracted to the scent of rotting fruit. And the edges of my froglet pool are liberally sprinkled with mouldering pears, to attract tiny fruit flies (for the delectation of tiny frogs). My dogs – while hysterically barking at the sniffing porcupine - overturned the tadpole dish. (Guess how long it takes to individually pick up 150 beached tadpoles; in the dark.) Then the porcupine, while diligently excavating a tunnel under the fence, shovelled all the earth into the tadpoles' bowl. I found 100 tadpoles cowering in the last tiny dribble of water.

Of course, the worst losses occurred at the beak of a vicious killer. A hadeda ibis, sprung one morning fishing in the bowl, was shockingly efficient at nabbing tadpoles. Ibises hunt by feel, groping about with their long sensitive bill, and this meant many victims later died from injuries.

A wicked serial tadpole-killer, the hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) is named for its ear-splitting cry. Admittedly these birds do sometimes holler HA-DE-DA but more often they just scream ARRRRRRRRR (usually from right behind you). The sound's so loud you can feel it thrum in your chest. Photo by Doug Harebottle and borrowed from here.

I have a horrible suspicion that many of my newly fledged frogs promptly ended up as dinner for the local fauna.

This small toad is an ominously regular visitor to my froglet pool.


  1. Oh what drama!! :) Did you have sleepless nights wondering what was going to happen next? My hair would have turned grey at all of this (well okay, greyer than it is :) ) Poor froggies!! What an ordeal!!

    LOL!! Great piece of writing Lynda, had me on the edge of my seat. :)

  2. One of the previous owners of our home introduced clicking river frogs to our garden and they were an absolute delight, but seemed to have disappeared with the drought, in spite of their pond. I want to repalce them, but then I thought that if I find tadpoles, with my luck they will turn into bull frogs.
    I know that feeling you had with your frog pond, except we had it with gold fish. They were systematically decimated by a hammerkop, a heron and a kingfisher - in a city garden.

  3. Joan,
    Ah, you understand! I wouldn't have a single grey hair if it wasn't for these tadpoles. Now I just have to find someone to blame for the wrinkles...

  4. Max-e,
    It's almost worth sacrificing a few goldfish if it encourages such charismatic birds to visit your garden.

    My frog book says that clicking stream frogs lay their eggs on the bank, pressing them into soft mud or moss. When the water level rises or there's torrential rain, the young are washed down into the water. I wondered if this was why your's weren't able to weather the drought?

    You can easily recognise bullfrog tadpoles because they all bunch up together in a tight, swarming mass. Apparently they aren't easy to collect anyway; the male bullfrog guards them, aggressively snapping at any intruders, including humans!

  5. Speaking of things not surviving droughts, I am wondering about birds not surviving heatwaves.
    Last summer we had about 5 days of 105F and almost all the dozens of little birds in the neighborhood disappeared afterward. There was a nest on our landing and the parents abandoned it. I think they were some type of swallow. Also sparrows and finches disappeared. We never saw them again. Would you happen to know, Lynda, if they die from heat, or do they just leave town?

  6. Jane,
    All gone to the seaside?
    It's very unlikely that they died from heat stroke, provided they had access to shade and water in which to bathe.
    The body temperature of most birds is about 104 - 105 degrees F, so your heatwave shouldn't have been a problem for them. Nestlings do sometimes die from the heat, if their nest is located in the sun or under a tin roof, etc. It's more likely that the heatwave had some indirect effect, e.g. encouraging the proliferation of a fungal disease, or ripening grass seed in areas of higher elevation.
    Exposure to high temperatures can also cause sterility in male birds, just as in male mammals. Perhaps their all just too embarrassed to show themselves?


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