It’s excellent how an exclamation mark can make such a difference to a statement of fact, which was otherwise pretty unremarkable.
The exclamation has rendered those two words so very Wodehousian. Ok maybe it’s just me. I admit I’m just a tad bally obsessed with Wodehouse and his humour.
But back to the tadpoles. They’re really not that bad. In fact they are totally fascinating and this year are doing better than any other year that I remember.
This morning’s pond watch was interesting because the tadpoles have learned fear. I’m not talking just instinctively reacting to a shadow and swimming from the surface for 30 seconds and then coming back.
I’m talking proper instinctive frog fear… where they disappear into a puff of mud and stay there until they really need to breathe or think the threat is over.
It’s interesting that this fear has manifested itself after the back legs have formed but before the front legs.
The whole metamorphosis thing fascinates me. I have no idea why more people don’t find it miraculous. I mean, here we have a well-known creature that actually starts as a simple blob of cells and completely changes its form without any kind of hibernation or pause in development.
I haven’t yet read anything which indicates that scientists know precisely how or why this happens. Sure they now know about frog DNA and the influence of hormones. I read this morning that they’ve even made sterile transgenic frogs but they can’t replicate metamorphosis. It’s still a mystery.
Somehow or other the cells just change according to the pattern set out in the genes and create a completely different creature which is capable of adapting to its environment.
A lot of the home-grown pond frogs are prettily marked black and yellowish green which suggests they have developed a camouflage from living beneath the variegated ivy, which is yellow and lime green. When frogs gather for the big mating orgy in February, it’s very obvious who the visitors are. One this spring was almost wholly yellowish while another was deep terracotta red.
Not only that but as evidenced now, the brain develops to match the creature and the creatures’ development adapts to the environment. They must have some form of communication or ability to synchronise because, even more weirdly, they tend to make their move from pond to dry land all together on the same day. Cloudy damp days should be the best conditions for them to go over the top and seek damp cool places in long grass or under rocks.
They don’t always get it right. There have been hot June days when their sadly desiccated little bodies have been littering the brick edge of the pond. Rather like the one little black turtle hatchling that was spotted by a little boy on the beach in Mexico as it struggled it’s way through the soft sand while sunbathers read their books and drank their lagers unaware of its presence.
The boy alerted his parents and soon even the readers and sunbathers were on their feet to form a protective guard of honour against potential bird strikes as the turtelinni flapped its way wildly through the sand to the sea. It was a beautiful moment when it paused, exhausted, on the damp sand and the next second was swept up by the Caribbean to begin its new life. Everyone applauded. It was a good example of how, occasionally, tourism actually benefits wildlife. Without the tourist guard of honour, turtelinni would undoubtedly have been picked off by a sharp-eyed great-tailed grackle.
But back to the tadpoles… This year they are bigger than ever before. They are fatter with longer, massively strong tails. I’ve no idea why this is. A heron cleared the pond of nearly all the fish about three weeks ago, so maybe they have been pigging themselves on fish food, but it’s odd.
It will be interesting to see if they make super-frogs.