Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Do ya think I'm sexy?

Great American Toad, Amherst, NH, May 2006, HP Photosmart R817, Exposure 1/690 sec @ f5.0, ISO 100, no flash © Steven Crisp

It's amazing what passes for good looks around the Crisp pond. And sultry voices too -- the subtitle to this photo is "So, is that a song in your throat, or are you just happy to see me?" You should hear these guys. At first I thought they were tree frogs. Quite the caucophony. But it turns out it was mating time for your run-of-the-mill Great American Toad. This is a male; the females don't sing, and are much larger, and apparently in high demand. They enter ponds for just a few days in the spring to mate. And boy do they mate. You can walk right up to them and they won't even move -- these guys are focused!

Now you may recall that we have a dog named Frito. Frito might as well be an acronym for Frogs Run In Terror Ordinarily. The reason we say "ordinarily" is that Frito of course likes to eat the frogs, but when he tried that on a toad, boy was he in for a surprise. He immediately dropped the toad and started foaming at the mouth. Seems toads secrete some poison from their skin that predators really don't like. We had to wash out Frito's mouth, and then he was fine. He tried it one more time, and then left the mating toads all alone. Nature is pretty clever.

Continuing with our nature lesson ... These toads left thousands and thousand of eggs in the pond. Long strings, each with a black spot inside. In a few days (after the toads had all departed), the eggs were gone and only the black dots remained. For many days it looked like the mating was a bust. But each one of those black dots finally started to flit about, and eventually became tadpoles (a very small sample of which are shown at right).

Looking at all of these tadpoles, I am reminded of a nature documentary I saw on the Christmas Island Red Crab migration. Millions and millions of baby red crabs migrating back from the sea, so thick they have to close roads and reroute traffic. Why so many? So that the species continues (and evolves). So other species have food (and can evolve). What is the purpose of any given red crab's life? That is probably the wrong question, but if you must have an answer, it would be just to survive and reproduce. The same with the tadpoles in my pond.

So when your ego is getting just a little too big for its own good, consider yourself the human equivalent of the Christmas Island baby Red Crab, or the Great American Toad tadpole. Individually, your purpose is not significant. But collectively, your purpose is to evolve the species. Let go of the ego, and see if you are doing your part to help out our collective humanity survive and evolve.

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