Thursday 24 April 2008

Nature's Balance

If you click to enlarge the tadpoles in the first two photographs, you will see the eyes and mouths of the second batch of tadpoles to hatch. The earlier batch from last week, breathing through the aid of their gills, is now swimming independently across the pond.
Some, though not all, from the second batch have gills. On closer inspection you can easily see the shapes of legs curled up under their abdomens. These tadpoles are still huddled together for warmth and protection.
Alongside an even younger batch are the great pond snails, lymnaea stagnalis, who mainly feed on rotting organic matter. They scrape pieces off plants with their rough tongues. Some have gills for breathing under the water. Others rise to the surface and float upside down to take in air.

Spring in the pond is a time of reproduction for the pond snails as well as for frogs, toads and newts. Pond snails' shells can be up to 60 mm in length. These two photographs show they vary in colour from yellow-brown to silver grey. Their eggs are found in long jelly capsules on the undersides of water plants.
The next two photographs show a pair of male smooth newts, triturus vulgaris. When it is not the breeding season it is hard to distinguish the males from the females.
In the breeding season however, each male has a wavy transparent crest running all the way down his back. Dark spots cover the rest of his body. Although he always has an orange undercarriage, it is brighter during the breeding season.
The females, on the otherhand, have a dark line running down their backs as well as a line on either side of their spine. Their stomachs are orange too, though not as bright in colour as the males.
The females also develop spots but not on their stomachs. Neither do they have the paddle-like tails for increased speed that the males have. The average life-span of newts is 6 years though some can live up to 20 years. From nose tip to tail tip the females are around 7-11 cms. The males are slightly larger than the females.

The females (well camouflaged in the above photo) are olive green in colour, whereas the males are dark in colour. Newts spend most of their life on land. Ours hide during day under the large stones surrounding the pond or in our compost heap, and come out to feed at night. They look rather like lizards though they are not scaly.
In the next set of nine photos - including the one above - you will need to play detective in order to find the male in various stages of hiding, as his camouflage is near perfect, waiting for his opportunity to come out and gobble up the tadpoles for his dinner.
As I watched him hiding under a leaf to camouflage himself, he gradually showed part of his tail, poked out his head, then another part of his body, and so on, until he was fully exposed.
Whereas on land the newts would feed on insects, worms and slugs using their projecting tongues, in the water they use their minute teeth to grab hold of the tadpoles.
To supplement their diet of frog tadpoles, they also eat other minute creatures such as the water snails, insect larva, plankton, and water lice.

The adult newts shed their skins about once a week. We sometimes see their skins lying around the garden. Compared to the much warmer South of Britain, it is colder in Scotland; so our newts did not venture out to breed until April, as the temperature has to be above zero degrees Celsius, and the conditions moist.
I took the three little videos (below) at different times of the day. As the newts appear very briefly in each video - and disappear with tremendous speed - I decided to post lots of photos of the newts so that you could have as close a view of them as possible.
When I took the video of the tadpoles last week, they were huddled together close to the surface of the pond, making them a captive audience - which meant that I was able to zoom in closely. It was a far different matter when filming the newts, for they were hiding deep down under the swell of the tadpoles, waiting their moment to come to the surface and pounce.
The last two photos show how the newts resemble crocodiles with long swishing tails compared to the minuscule size of the tadpoles. I had to spend most of the day waiting for the newts to appear as they made themselves scarce if the tread of my footsteps was too loud as I approached the pond or whenever part of my shadow crossed the pond.
While I was watching and filming the newts gorging themselves on the tadpoles, I marvelled at how Nature has its own perfect answer to the multitude of frog tadpoles produced each Spring in the Barleycorn ponds. For, without the newts to keep their numbers down, we would have plagues of frogs in biblical proportions.

Smooth Newts Having Dinner

Smooth Newts On The Prowl

Male Smooth Newt Comes To Dinner

Tuesday 15 April 2008

The Miracle Of Rebirth At Barleycorn

After the snow of the past weekend, I decided to take a stroll around the ponds this morning to see how the spawn was developing. I could not fail to notice how the water was crystal clear.
The marsh marigolds were sporting their new green Spring coats, getting ready to burst into bloom.
A friendly male blackbird was so engrossed in his morning routine that he took little notice of me as I sat at the edge of the pond, watching him drinking and bathing, and serenading me with his joyous song.
A curious frog swam near to where I was sitting, eyeing me with suspicion, no doubt wondering what I was up to, and whether I was friend or foe...probably remembering that pesky heron from the previous day who had helped himself to a few of his brothers and sisters.
As I rounded one of the margins of the pond, the water was a heaving mass of frogspawn within which were hundreds of tadpoles swimming around, all at various stages in their development .
On closer inspection I could see, amongst some waterweed, a blob of recent spawn, where the individual eggs were clearly visible.
Further over there were older tadpoles, still within their jelly, but with chubby bodies and wiggly tails.
Next to them was a section of greenish-coloured spawn, within which were individual tadpoles in little cells shaped like space bubbles ; each tadpole wriggling about inside its capsule.
With the sun playing a game of hide and seek with the clouds, the ever-changing reflections gave the impression that some of the spawn was suspended in thick, impenetrable white jelly.

Right in the middle of the mass was a small clump of fresh spawn with tiny eggs in the centre, surrounded by older swimmers practising with their new rudders.
There was also a large area of slimy, green matter which would have been left behind from the earliest spawn from which most of the older tadpoles had now hatched.
The largest area, however, was a mass of seething, wriggling tadpoles, all closely huddled together for safety and warmth.
Zooming in with my camera, I could see within this mass the eldest of all the tadpoles, all squeezed together like sardines, and all breathing through their new gills. I couldn't resist taking a little video of them doing the Hokey Cokey, which you can view just after the little poem.
The Barleycorn Bog

We’re the newborn baby froglings
In the Barleycorn bog
With our beady eyes a-goggling
Through the underwater fog
We’re getting very strong
‘Cos our legs are growing long
A-swimming and a-gobbling
To the rhythm of the song
With our wiggly tails a-joggling
And our eager heads agog
We’re happy in the sunshine
‘Cos we’ll soon be handsome frogs.

A Plethora Of Tadpoles At Barleycorn

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Barleycorn Frogathon

The frog is a clever amphibian,
Just ask him a question and see,
Like what do you do when your back is sore?
He answers back to me.

The frog is a clever amphibian,

Just ask him a question and see,

Like how deep is the froggy pond?


He answers back to me!

Deborah Reed.

There's a little green frog,

A-swimming in the water,

A little green frog,

A-doing what he oughta,

He jumped right off of a lily-pad,

Then he said, "Oh Boy! I sure am glad,

I'm a little green frog,

A-swimming in the water,

Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit!"

When you click on the video below please turn up the volume to appreciate the amazing sound of the frog chorus and the wonderful birdsong which accompanied it while I was taking the video.


I have to thank , and who both take a great many delightful videos of the birds in their gardens; whose blogs are well worth a visit; and who helped me to upload this little video. My new camera has a newer version of AVI files which are not able to be uploaded as the CODECs are not supported by Google or Youtube. My friends sent me instructions on how to import my AVI file to Windows Movie Maker where it converted the massive AVI file into a compressed WMV file, around a tenth of the original size, thus uploading it in a few minutes rather than two hours!


Perhaps I should have accompanied this post with Paul Mc Cartney's 'We All Stand Together', or 'That's What Friends Are For' ? I am so grateful for their help :)

Leap Frog At Barleycorn