Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Watching Tadpoles

Osprey Landing, Umpqua River, Oregon, USA
I’m sitting on a warm boulder, my feet resting on another just inches above the surface of a warm backwater along the Umpqua River.  It’s sunny and warm.  Across the river a family of osprey chick call incessantly.  Keeping up with their adolescent appetites must be a challenge. 

When I sat down I spooked at least fifty tadpoles, mostly big ones two to five inches long.  Those must be bullfrog tadpoles; but there is also a smaller, more golden species too – a medium sized tadpole.  Only half a dozen of the tadpoles stayed put.  Most skedaddle to deeper water.  I didn’t disturb their water, but just seeing me hunkering nearby is enough to send them hurrying.  Gradually they relax and work their way back.  Then I hear a loud splash just to my right.  Algae swirls and the rest of my tadpoles come scurrying back into the shallow water of my little bay.  There are small-mouth bass in the river.  I suspect a large one triggered the splash. 

Soon my eight foot wide bay is again full of activity.

The river here is covered with cobbles and boulders.  Everything underwater is covered with dull green algae, about the same color as the bullfrog tadpoles.  It is scummy stuff.  If I tried wading on these cobbles, I’d have to be very careful not to slip.  But the tadpoles like it.  They eat it.  When a tadpole feeds, his nose is to the rock, his tail waving to keep him in place, or to move him on.  At this stage a frog’s mouth is quite small.  Later he’ll have a huge gape – better to throw his tongue out to catch flies … and dragonflies…. and even ducklings. 

So nice sitting here, even if it is a bit warm.  I sketch, paint and write.  The tadpoles feed; some rest; and a few wiggle on to a new spot.  Those that are still are ever so gently rocked by the very slight ripple in the water.  Every so often one suddenly zooms to the surface for a quick gulp of air.  If I had more patience I’d keep my eyes glued on just one tadpole and time how often it rises to the surface …. Every ten minutes?  Twenty minutes?  Not often.  A young tadpole gets most of its oxygen by using gills and through its skin.  Gradually its lungs become more important.   

I’d also like to observe one individual every day from the day it hatches out of its egg until it is a full grown frog.  Today I’m watching a snippet of that process, but at least I have tadpoles in various stages.  Most have a lot of tail and no legs.  A few have tiny back legs, and a few are losing their tails and have bigger hind legs.  Shortly before adulthood they’ll have four legs, hardly any tail, big mouths….
.... and big eyes.


  1. Beautiful writing! I could almost see the tadpoles eating!

  2. Really evocative, Elva, you've taken me back to my childhood collecting tadpoles to watch them develop!

  3. Who'd have thought tadpoles could be such a lovely subject of prose and paint? The painting is ethereal. So beautiful.

  4. Elva, These photos, remind me of your drawings.


  5. Hi Jeanette ... Good to hear from you. Only the bottom image is a photo. The top one is art ... or am I confused by your comment?

  6. You paint beautiful pictures with your brush AND your words, Elva. I think Valerie's use of the word "evocative" is spot on.