Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tarrying With Tadpoles

“I love everything about you,” said the caterpillar. “Promise you’ll never change.” ~ from Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis

“It’s Thursday,” I said, “We have to go to the lake."

"Why?" my daughter asked.

"We have to visit the tadpoles I’ve adopted,” I said.

“You’ve adopted them?” She smiled. “That means I have brothers and sisters.”

Even with the promise of amphibian siblings, she was reluctant to hike. It was spring break -- she wanted to watch DVDs. Luckily I’m the adult. I was hell-bent on tarrying with tadpoles. That’s what we did.

Over the last month I’d been watching wood frogs progress from fresh clean eggs, to algae covered goo-gobs, to tiny twig-like brown squiggles and finally, burgeoning tadpoles. I didn’t want to miss anything.

I’d been surprised to find the cute little brown tadpole babies hanging out by their egg sacks after they’d hatched. I wondered how long they'd do that. I wouldn’t have guessed they’d do that at all. I kind of thought they’d hatch one at a time and swim away until there was one last Leo Lionni type tadpole left swimming lonely by himself and pondering why.

Observing tadpoles squelched my picture book conceptions of nature. I hadn’t even realized my knowledge of these sweet little anurans had ceased to grow past picture books. I'd had a pursuit-of-knowledge hiatus. A little observation filled me with questions, I was eager to see what had changed this past week.

The tadpoles were now swimming about in the shallows, after two weeks hanging out on top of their old egg sacks. The eggs were now gone. I was surprised at how close to the surface the tadpoles stayed.

At the library, I learned that swimming close to the surface is unusual for tadpoles, most frog larvae swim deeper for safety. Wood frog tadpoles stay at the surface eating algae and other detritus, it makes them easier to observe and easier to eat. That is why wood frogs only lay their eggs in vernal pools without fish.

Discovery! The tadpoles in Leo Lionni’s Fish is Fish and Jeanne Willis’s Tadpole’s Promise are not wood frogs aka Rana sylvatica. I know this because the illustrator shows fish in the pond in both books. Regardless of species, though, the same foundational tadpole quandaries apply. Tadpoles make great allegories for personal change. These picture books are must reads for anyone who has ever grown or changed.

[To expand my knowledge beyond picture books, I read bits of Vernal Pools Natural History and Conservation by Elizabeth A. Colburn; Summer Wold A Season of Bounty by Bernd Heinrich and Wood Frogs by Doug Wechsler. Video taken April 4/22/10 at the vernal pool near the narrows of Fitzgerald Lake in Florence Massachusetts.]


  1. I enjoyed this to the highest heights! Thank you. I'm inspired to go for a walk in Florence. See ya later

  2. Glad to hear that you have been getting out and about. I haven't seen any tadpoles yet this year, and perhaps I am too late. Gotta get out more.

  3. Thanks Fairin, enjoy your walk and heights!

  4. I hear ya Tara, it can be hard to find time to cram all the stuff we want to into our lives!