Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Adventures with frogs. Chapter four: The Great Wriggler Emergency

By late May the tadpoles were changing. Little legs were appearing on some of them. But things were not going well, for the tadpoles were not alone in the big bold universe that was the old baby bathtub. Other things wiggled and wriggled in the water. To us the tadpoles were objects of fascination and stories. To the wigglers though they were a food source.

Me and my youngest went to look at the tadpoles one morning to find some of them had wrigglers attached themselves to the tadpoles. I was horrified and experienced a vivid memory flash of the hugger in Alien leaping onto John Hurt’s face. I managed to poke and shake most of them off, but one remained clamped on a tadpole that was listless and clearly dying. We began an emergency evacuation, scooping up tadpoles and putting them in to a plastic tub.

It was no surprise as the evacuation went on, that my son, like every four year old on the planet, quickly forgot the mission and began inspecting the tadpoles. Why wouldn’t he? After all, nature is incredible. Every time children play and engage and create adventures in it they are increasing their empathy for the world around them and all things in it.  So I’m very happy to let my children play in the wilds and inspect all its little creatures. Cuts from thorns become heroic scars. The bugs and beasts that normally turn my stomach, become, when held in my sons’ hands, magically transformed into fascinating little creatures. I try not to stifle my children’s curiosity but emphasise the importance of returning mini beasts to their own families unharmed.

I asked my son to be gentle with the tadpoles. But while his imagination and curiosity are nimble and quick his little fingers are still a little clumsy. Another tadpole died. It and its dead compadre – the victim of the wrigglers - lay still on the grass. I know they were only tadpoles but for a moment I felt utterly bereft. I felt like a terrible parent. My little one told me he felt ‘sad’.

We poured the remaining tadpoles into the fresh clean water in the bath tub. My oldest son, the reader of nature books, joined us. He figured the problem was the bath tub didn’t look like a proper pond. So he added some big mossy boulders and sure enough as he did so my synapses sparked and suddenly I understood the problem. A bath tub, no matter how clean is not a suitable environment for any creature. Tadpoles and frogs are part of nature. A bath tub filled with fresh water is not. It is utterly alien to nature.  Now I understood the problem, I had to think of a solution.

Later we sat in the sunlight my boys discussed the Great Wriggler Emergency.
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As they chatted the morning’s events became as big and as full of meaning as the works of Shakespeare, packed with daring deeds and terrible deaths. I looked through the book that is my oldest son’s constant companion, ‘Garden Wildlife of Britain & Europe’ by Michael Chinery.  A few pages in I found what I was looking for. Advice on how to make a wildlife pond in your own garden. The baby bath tub was going to get a massive makeover. The boys were ecstatic with the idea.

In the evening, after the boys had gone to bed I checked out the Frog Factsheet online at the Irish Peatland Conservation Council . My doubts vanished as I read about the threats to frogs from pollution and the loss of habitat. I decided to begin transforming the bath tub the next day. According to Michael Chinery, we would need oxygenating plants and water from the pond up the Yeti Hill to ‘seed’ our own little pond with bugs and microscopic life. I had fun making notes and letting the ideas roll around. It seemed a good end to the day. However, the day’s adventures were still not fully played out.
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Enjoy this. You might want to read Adventure with Frogs: Chapter Five
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