Pollywiggle pollywog

Pollywiggle Pollywog

I have a soft spot for amphibians, partly because they’re so soft and vulnerable. Ask me my favorite animal, and I’ll say “salamander.” Unless I’m holding your Jello-boned cat; then he’s my favorite animal. Or watching the blonde squirrel in my yard; then she’s my favorite. But all the other times, it’s salamanders.

They’re also known as mud puppies, or snot otters. They’re associated with barefoot-smooth stones and the sound of rushing water; they’re the animal of a lazy day mid-summer day at a clear mountain stream.

My kids have a book, The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, in which a little boy wants to keep a salamander in his bedroom. His mom points out that salamanders have needs, and the boy re-designs his whole room, his whole life, to accommodate that salamander. He might love them a little more than I do, but I get it.

All amphibians are pretty cool. They’re also, according to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, the most endangered class of vertebrates (animals with backbones, as opposed to bugs and such). That’s beating out the more photogenic critters – like giant pandas, trash pandas, and red pandas, only one of which is an actual panda.

Amphibians include salamanders, toads, frogs, and newts. Only. Just those. And almost all amphibians go through a tadpole, or pollywog stage. Everyone loves to watch pollywogs change into frogs. Maybe we can relate to the idea of changing yourself so dramatically, you’re not even recognizable as the same creature anymore.

I’ve kept tadpoles numerous times, for my classes and my kids, with the goal of observing metamorphosis (tadpole to frog), before releasing them back into the wild.

The first time, I learned that you have to provide raised surfaces, because they change into frogs all but overnight. One second, they’re gill-breathing wigglefish, the next, they’re drowning land animals. Nothing like returning to school in the morning to an aquarium full of dead frogs. That doesn’t earn you any teacher-of-the-year points.

I also lost tadpoles, just three days ago, to contaminants in the water. Amphibians are partly endangered because they’re so sensitive to water pollution – their skin is thin and porous. They’re an indicator species, in that they indicate whether the water is clean.

I’d kept a bucket of rainwater so I could change out their habitat when it became murky and smelly. I cleaned out the tank over the weekend, but unfortunately, the rainwater had changed somehow in storage. I imagine the bucket leached chemicals into the water. All the tadpoles died. No mom-of-the-year points. I loved those poor pollywogs to death.

So, this post is their eulogy. And I’ll end it with a poem by Mary Ann Hoberman (she’s brilliant; buy all of her books).

“Frog” by Mary Ann Hoberman

Leaps on
Long legs
Jelly eggs
Sticky tongue
Tricks flies
Spied by
Flicker eyes
Wet skin
Cold blood
Squats in
Mucky mud
Leaps on
Long legs
Jelly eggs
Laid in
Wet bog

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