Tadpoles tough out western terrain

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

The water in the barrow ditch was alive with something bigger than bugs. The water was moving, bubbling. I had to pull off the road and park my bicycle.

I peered into the murky, algae-rimmed rut and saw tadpoles. Hundreds of tadpoles were swimming around and doing what tadpoles do best — growing up to be good ol’ toads.

The last time I saw tadpoles was almost 10 years ago, huge bullfrog tadpoles in the San Pedro River in southeastern Arizona. These in the barrow ditch on Clovis’ south side were little bitty black toad tadpoles.

Some enterprising amphibians managed to find this ditch and decided it was just the right place for some toad romance.

I admire toads, they’re hardy critters. Most of the other members of their amphibian family need to be near water most of the time; not so toads. They mosey across tracts of land, not a pond or creek to be found. If there’s no rain, they burrow down into soft dirt or hunker down in a hole and go dormant waiting for a storm.

That’s called aestivation, one of those words you probably wouldn’t use in everyday conversation.

It’s neat to watch a toad eat. They hop along, spy a bug, stop, turn, zero in and with the flick of the tongue the insect is gone.

Living back east it was bizarre to see toads eat fireflies or “lightning bugs” at night. The toad would gobble up the firefly then you could see the toad’s head dimly glow from inside.

You could see a faint outline of the toad’s skull.

I had a couple of toads for neighbors a few years back. I’d leave the back porch light on and a tiny trickle of water running from the back-yard spigot.

Late at night two big fat toads would come from somewhere in the back yard, sit under the dripping faucet and flick their tongues at bugs all night long.

I looked at the tadpoles in the barrow ditch. The water would dry up and I wondered if they’d make it. I rode home and told The Lady of the House about the critters.

“Let’s go back, scoop ’em up and put them in with the goldfish,” I said. We have a small pond in the back yard, home to a baker’s dozen of goldfish and a big lily pad. “Then we’d have toads sitting by the pond in the spring.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Toads don’t care; once the tadpoles sprout legs and leave you’ll never see them again. And besides, they’ll mess up the ecosystem of the pond.”

It’s a sentimental part of me that wishes toads would stick around our neighborhood and sing their toad-song in the spring night rain by our pond. It takes me back to when I was a kid in the mountains back east.

Every pond, every marsh was full of toads making a din in the night. With their old, old songs they were pitching a little toad-woo.
I remember the last toad that visited our back yard four years ago. We left the window open to hear the slow, soaking rainfall. And we listened to the lone toad sitting by our small pond singing for a sweetheart that never came.

The next day I stopped by the barrow ditch again just to watch the tadpoles do their tadpole thing. I wished them good luck on their journey. Out here on the High Plains, they’ll need it.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: