Friday, May 18, 2012

Polliwog by Polliwog

Have you ever heard the story that goes something like this...
A little girl on the beach sees hundreds of sea stars (starfish) stranded on the sand and begins throwing them back into the water. A man approaches and tells her there's no point. There are too many sea stars.  Her efforts don't matter. The girl looks at the sea star in her hand and says, "It matters to this one."

This story is often used as metaphorical inspiration when people think they can't make a difference. The message is basically 'start with one thing.'

Recently, I had a more literal experience of this story.

Not long after the wood frogs descended upon our nearby "frog pond," my kids and I went back looking for eggs (more appropriately called spawn). We collected one mass that we brought home to watch. We placed it in a large plastic jug with plenty of water and muck from the pond. We changed the water occasionally to keep the balance healthy.

Finally, on Monday of last week, I noticed tadpoles emerging. Unfortunately, the kids were at school, but I had some time, so I hiked out to the pond to see what was happening. We've been in drought conditions here in the Northeast, so when I arrived, I found the water level significantly lower than when I had last been out there. I also found this:
It's an area approximately two feet by three feet that is covered by spawn left high and dry on land as the water level dropped. My heart sank. Literally hundreds, maybe thousands of little polliwogs were in there.
Can you see the shape of one in the shadow on the left side of the photo? Click to make larger.
All of them would die if I didn't do something. So, like the little girl in the story, I gently scooped up each mass, picked my way out along these rocks
and slipped them into the water. Even as I was walking, tadpoles were emerging in my hands.

Can you see the gills? They're the little fin-like things on the sides of it's body.
This isn't a great photo, but every aqua mass you see is one I deposited. There are more on the other side of the rocks, out of the shot.
I sat and watched one polliwog after another squiggle off into the safety of the murky bottom.

I'll be honest, there were moments when I was ready to just quit. It was hot, I wanted time to observe, I felt an occasional light-headedness with all of the up and down and balancing on rocks. But, my readers know I love this place and I love frogs. You may remember how devastated I was by the logging that took place over the winter and early spring and how I worried about the fate of the wood frogs. I couldn't leave them to die. I just focused on moving one mass at a time until eventually all were back in the water.

Author Anne Lamott called this Bird by Bird. I think I'll call it "Polliwog by Polliwog."

What task in your life could you better manage if you remembered to take it one little step at a time? How could you help your children or students learn this same lesson?

(Science fact I need to share: I'm not certain these eggs are Wood Frog spawn. Amphibian eggs can look very similar. I also tend to avoid research-I'd rather learn from my own observations for something like this. So, we're simply watching the tadpoles in our jug carefully to see how they change over time. Soon, we'll return them to the pond because they won't be able to stay healthy in our porch. Hopefully they will have changed enough for us to ID them by then. That said, if you can definitively ID the species from my photos, please feel free to put it in comments).


  1. Vernal Pools are one of my favorite places in the world. I would have done the same thing.

    As for egg mass id - wood frog masses look bumpy on the outside. salamander masses have a gel layer around them and therefore are smooth and the eggs look like they are more inside the mass.

    1. I know. That same day, I sat on the back and looked at the water after I moved all of the eggs and thought, "I just love this place."

      We have a few still unidentified "polliwogs" in our porch (We returned most to the pool). We've been changing the water regularly-being sure to scoop insects along with the water-and watching them grow and change.