Backyard Note #5 — Feeding the Stock
[From a journal entry dated July 2003]
I’ve been busy hunting for food for our various wildlife guests. We have been collecting specimens from the Chemung River. It all started with the set of twenty or so toad tadpoles that we found in a small pool along the bank of the river. It was water left behind after the level of the river dropped at the end of spring. With the puddle water that the tadpoles came in there came also a very interesting assortment of very tiny creatures, barely visible to the unaided eye — copepods , water fleas, insect larvae, tube worms.
But the collection continued to grow. Arriving home at 5:00 P.M. one afternoon and expecting to find my family waiting for me, so that we could leave for dinner at the S’s house, I found instead no one home. On the kitchen table I found an old peanut butter jar with murky water and a baby snapping turtle swimming around in it. Next to that was an old cup with a very large crayfish in it. Another bottle had a very interesting looking snail.
As I looked in amazement at all these examples of North American freshwater fauna, I looked in vain for some sort of note to explain where everyone was and what all these creatures meant. Then, I heard our van pull into our driveway. Out piled five kids — my three and two others from down the street. They set to work unloading an assortment of containers of cloudy, green-brown water. Realizing their menagerie could not long survive in old peanut butter jars and old drinking cups, the crew had returned to the river to draw enough water to set up several aquariums to house the collection.
The specimens were then divvied up between the neighbors and us. And that is
how I came to need to gather squirming and crawling food items. The snapping turtle and the crayfish were especially fond of earth worms. That’s convenient because our compost bins are thick with worms, though they will also gladly accept the remains of tadpoles that fail to survive captivity. I’ve also found that they will make short work of various insects, lawn grubs, and non-hairy caterpillars.
The tadpoles are quite easy. They eat algae, which grows on its own in the aquarium. But we supplement the natural algae with fish food algae wafers.
The tadpoles, however, become a problem when they advance to being tiny, little toads. They will eat only live, i.e. moving, food items. It is no problem to find live bugs in the yard, but the problem arises from the fact that the toads are exceedingly tiny. The easiest insects to catch are invariably bigger than the toads themselves. I have to search for very tiny insects and then exercise great care in the capture process. Such tiny bugs are hard to find and are so delicate that they do not always survive the capture. My solution has been to release the minute toads into the backyard as soon as they seem acclimated to dry land.
[Follow-up: I was a little uneasy about trying to keep a little snapping turtle in an aquarium. I wasn’t afraid of it. It was very small, and so I wasn’t worried about losing a finger to it as I might be if we were trying to keep an adult captive. But I doubted our ability to provide for its health and well-being over the long-term. It did develop some sort of fungal growth on its neck during its stay with us. But that cleared up quickly with some repeat exposures to outdoor sunlight. I was also not entirely sure that it was legal to keep a captive native snapping turtle. So, after a couple of weeks, I convinced my kids that the right thing to do, now that we’d had a little time to watch the little guy and learn something about him, was to release him back into the river where we’d gotten him. So, one afternoon, we took him down to the river bank, set him down beside the water, and watched him scurry into the water and swim away.
We have continued to capture and raise tadpoles over the years, especially now that we have a small backyard pond. We’ve raised quite a few generations of toads. Our yard is not well populated with adult toads, some quite large. They are one of the few species that prey on slugs, and I can testify that we rarely suffer damage to our garden plants caused by slugs. Two years ago, one
of the tadpoles we raised in our garden pond turned out to be a wood frog which then, as an adult, spent the rest of the summer as a resident of the pond. He didn’t reappear the following summer, but we take hope in the fact that wood frogs are known to travel long distances over land. We like to think that he just decided to move on to some larger more promising body of water for his second year.
One additional discovery we have made for ourselves concerning the raising of tadpoles is that grackles seem to have quite a fondness for eating them. We have found that right after we stock our pond with new tadpoles, the edges of the pond are quickly populated by large numbers of grackle, just the way a well-known trout stream is lined with anglers on opening day of trout season. In the subsequent days, we notice a dramatic decline in the tadpole population. This year we’re preparing a wire-mesh cover for the shallow part of the pond in order to afford our amphibian guests a better survival rate. I’ll keep you posted.]
© 2011 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.