Toads and Kids

posted in: Creative Nonfiction | 0

In late May, while Freyja took a nap, Sullivan and I went for a walk down the road. I didn’t really know where we were going to go, or what we were going to do; I think my initial thought was to go to the horse stables.

Along the way, we found a hole, probably 4 feet deep and about 6 or 7 feet across (dug out for some utilitarian purpose, I think) that was filled with a couple feet of water. I saw a giant frog, or maybe a toad, on the other side.

“Sullivan, look!” I whispered. “See the frog?”

When we stepped closer, it quickly hopped into the water, making an audible *PLOP*. And then two other frogs, that we hadn’t seen, jumped in too: *PLOP* *PLOP*. A fourth one jumped from about a foot or two from our feet: hop, hop, *PLOP*. This gave me an idea.

“Hey, let’s go check the pond for frogs! I bet we’ll find some!”

Tadpoles in pondWe re-traced our steps back to the pond we had passed earlier, and started to walk around the edge of it. About one-third of the way around, I glanced at the water and saw what I initially thought was some sort of aquatic vegetation or strange bed of rocks, but turned out to be a myriad of tadpoles! They wriggled and swam around. Sullivan didn’t see them at first, so I tossed a small pebble into the middle of one of the tadpole groups, and the tadpoles quickly dispersed in all directions; Sullivan saw them.

We kept walking around the pond, looking for more tadpoles and kept seeing more and more. On the far-side of the pond, there was a convocation of so many tadpoles that you could barely see the earth underneath. Remembering that he had his old aquarium in his closet, this gave me an idea. I sent a message to Melissa, telling her about the tadpoles and asking her if she could bring a bucket to us to catch some. We were going to raise some frogs / toads.

Catching the tadpoles

Sullivan and I dragged the bucket through the water and were able to successfully extricate about a half-dozen tadpoles.

As we walked back towards his house, I asked him “What do you think we should put in their habitat? What things do you see around here, where the tadpoles live right now?”

Sullivan suggested that the tadpoles would probably like water, and dirt, and maybe some rocks. I suggested some plants, and he thought that would be a good idea too.

Setting up the aquarium

We sprayed out the aquarium to clear out any fish tank gravel and remnants that may have been in it from when it housed a colony of guppies that would make the Duggards jealous, and started hauling some large gravel rocks from the driveway, to lay along the bottom. Sullivan helped me collect some soil, and some boards to use on the bottom to elevate the tank off the grass and keep it level (you didn’t think this was going indoors, did you? 😉 ).

Our plan was to incorporate as much from their native habitat as possible, so that could worry minimally about the finer details of aquarial chemistry. We laid down a thin layer of soil, to keep the rocks from directly touching the glass bottom. Then a layer of rocks, about 2″ or 3″ thick, then some more soil on top of that, for the flora to take root in. We found some larger rocks around (3-5 lbs each, suitable for garden use) to give the tadpoles some places to hide as well as a way to climb out of the water when they were ready (that part is actually really important).

With the half-dozen tadpoles still swimming in a pink sand pail, probably quite confused, we took 2 different pails and started making trips to the original pond. It was actually a little challenging to dredge water out of the pond and not catch more tadpoles. After we had enough that the tank was filled about 1/3 of the way up (~8 gallons, with all the displacement from the rocks and earth), we dug up about 4 different grass plants that were growing in our near the pond, and transplanted them, roots and all, into the aquarium.

The aquarium, set up with dirt, grass, and rocks from the pond
The aquarium, set up with dirt, grass, and rocks from the pond


The water was very murky from all the disturbed soil in the base, but I didn’t think the tadpoles would mind much. We poured the pail containing the tadpoles directly into the water in the aquarium; one had died in transit (s/he was returned to the pond). They seemed a little happier in the aquarium: some hid away under the rocks, and others kept trying to swim into the corner.

Tadpoles in aquarium
Tadpoles in aquarium

There was no filtration system, no water pump, and a thermometer only because it was facing east and I was concerned the glass would trap so much heat it would kill the tadpoles. Our idea was that any food the tadpoles might want to eat should be found in the aquarium as it was; either microbes from the water, or the leaves of the plants itself. Mosquitoes and other bugs might visit, as well.

Caring for tadpoles

At this point, the tadpoles were probably at least a week or two old, maybe older. Some cursory Internet research suggested that they typically take 6-8 weeks, sometimes longer, to finally crawl out of the water. No word on how many Cereal Box UPCs I had to send to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For feeding, it was suggested that we freeze some dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach or kale, chop the frozen veggies into tiny bits, and then pour a few tablespoons in every week or so. We did try this, but I think the inclusion of native water and flora provided adequate growth nutrients.

One thing I had overlooked was rainfall. There was a day when it rained for quite a while, for most of the day. The tank had almost completely filled up, and required draining. In hindsight, we should have provided it with more cover from rainfall and the sun, though perhaps that rain freshened the water.

After a couple weeks, some of the water had evaporated, so we added about 2 or 3 gallons of water, again direct from the original pond, to the aquarium, again making sure that at least one of the rocks jutted out of the water surface.

Finally, frogs toads!

Young toad sitting on a rock in the aquarium
Young toad sitting on a rock in the aquarium

In early June (roughly 3 weeks from the start) we saw one of them had fully developed legs and no tail; it had crawled onto the rock. About half of them had legs, but also a tail still, and so were bound to the aquatic world.

Sullivan and Freyja were a little curious about this, but I don’t think they completely understood — they seemed less impressed than I had expected they would be.

The next time we were at the library, we found some books about the lifecycle of frogs and toads. We read the books together (there was at least one somewhat awkward question about amplexus) and they both seemed to get it a little more, and had developed some more interest. We got some crayons, a roll of paper, and drew some pictures of the frogs from the book: Sullivan drew a frog, Freyja drew a snake, and I drew some eggs and a tadpole.

A couple weeks later, all the frogs toads had developed legs and were moving with ease to and from the emerging rocks. It was clear that it was time to set them free.


At the beginning of this whole project, when Sullivan and I were carrying pails of water back from the pond, I explained to him that we were going to care for them for a while, watch them grow up, and then we had to give them back to nature. He was inquisitive about this, but seemed to grasp the idea pretty easily.

And so, roughly 4 weeks from the beginning, it was time to let the toads go.

Freyja looking into the bucket
Freyja looking into the bucket


In the same pink pail in which they we had borrowed them from the pond, we collected all 5 (6?) of the fully-formed toads; dry, this time.

The four of us and Lula walked down to the pond. As we were standing there looking for a good place to release the baby toads, one of the kids noticed a toad jumping in the grass. There were baby toads everywhere. I suddenly realized that we all needed to watch where we stepped because there were quite literally dozens upon dozens of baby toads all around a 6 foot perimeter surrounding the pond.

When we settled upon a place, the pink pail was laid on its side and two of the toads almost immediately jumped out. The remaining 4 preferred to cautiously cling to the bottom of the bucket, now translucently illuminated with light from the low-hanging sun.

Sullivan releasing toads into the wild
Sullivan releasing toads into the wild

The kids took turns trying to coax the toads out of the pail, with mixed success. Delicate gestures are difficult for small hands. Eventually though, all the toads had crept out of the pail into the grass, making their way towards the water and their new homes, among their brethren that they were meeting for the first time. (Knowing that toads aren’t really communal creatures, seeing their brethren would probably be more of a sense of “oh great, someone else to compete with,” so forgive my anthropomorphizing)

After the kids said goodbye to the toads, we headed back to the house, drew water from the aquarium until it was low enough to dump, then emptied and cleaned out the aquarium.

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