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The Legwork of Raising Tadpoles

Thoughts

I described it as torture to my mother, listening to the neighbor’s kids splash and yell in their pools; a staple of South Carolina backyards used to survive the hellish summers. Our own pool sat in disarray for as long as I could remember, filled with leaves and other indiscernible gunk. Perhaps my exaggeration was enough to spark the renovation. The next thing I knew, the pool was drained of the murky rainwater, and cleaning supplies were delivered at the doorstep.

On the morning of July 30, my assignment to clean the waterline tile quickly turned into toad round-up duty, as I found a number of them hiding under a tarp in the pool. That’s not all they were up to. I also discovered thousands of eggs floating in the shallow rainwater that had collected overnight. It was necessary to drain the water to continue fixing the pool, but I wanted to give some of the eggs a chance, partially out of curiosity of the metamorphosis process and partially out of guilt for having to cut the lives of many potential toads short. Perhaps it was also fate that I would be attending school remotely, so I knew I would be able to care for them. I collected what I could in a tank—about fifty eggs—and researched all I could about raising tadpoles.

Despite my findings, I didn’t realize that the tadpoles would only remain eggs for one day. The small dots in the center of the eggs doubled in size one day, then tripled the next. Tiny tails formed and small beady eyes looked back at me. By August 4, the tadpoles were swimming and munching on the boiled spinach and fish food I would sprinkle into the tank. Seeing their growth gave me something to look forward to, a rare occurrence during the long months of quarantine. Soon, I had to start changing the tank regularly, scooping the tadpoles out and pouring in fresh rainwater. They were gleefully eating for several weeks, growing larger every day.

The first hilariously disproportionate back legs appeared on August 22. The tadpoles were now awkwardly swimming with tiny legs they didn’t know how to control yet. There was then a quick growth development: by August 26, the first tadpole had all four legs. Less than a day later, it was clinging to the side of the tank, breathing air. I felt like a proud parent, the mood akin to seeing one’s child take their first steps. I relocated any newly formed toads into a secondary tank with more air, and provided pinhead crickets, just to make sure they could eat live food. After a couple of days, it was apparent that their best care would be provided outside, where they could begin to find food themselves. It was a bittersweet realization.

I find myself easily attached to things, so to make the releasing process easier, I refrained from naming or keeping tabs on any particular tadpole. I had to distance myself and see them as lifeforms with energy, which I provided with food and care. By returning them to the wild, I was giving that energy back to the world that gifted them to me in the first place. Nature is cruel, especially to such young and small things, but I am satisfied that I was able to grant them more life than the eggs I couldn’t save. Even if none of them live to see adulthood, their energy is carried forward by a natural cycle. Some of these thoughts translate to my own mortality, which I am admittedly fearful of facing, especially in the midst of a pandemic. In the end, I too am a lifeform with energy which will one day be carried on…just hopefully not anytime soon.

On September 1, I released the sixteen toads that were ready. They leapt into the awaiting world where I hope they have taken advantage of their instincts. At the time of this writing, I have been able to release thirty toads, with about twenty of their siblings still in the tank, awaiting their legs and their returned energy to the outside world.

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Art by Dev Kamath

written by
Elizabeth Clapp
October 9, 2020