Jumping Tadpoles

I get to wander many of Providence’s wilder places on a pretty regular basis, and now that I have been taking wildlife videos in the North Burial Ground for several years I have become more knowledgeable about the wildlife in our city, as well as simply much more observant of the world around me.

With the dryness of this spring my usual haunt of the drainage swale is cracked mud and unless we get significant rains in the next week or two, it is unlikely that Fowler’s Toads or Gray Tree Frogs will breed there this year.  Luckily the other wet spot in the Burial Ground is a permanent pond that seems almost completely unaffected by the dry weather.  I have recorded two types of herons, many smaller birds, bats, at least two kinds of turtles, and a variety of other life this spring.  Many of these creatures are already posted on Moshassuckcritters, or will be by the time the fall rolls around.

This week i have been focusing on one of my favorite phenomena, the jumping Bullfrog tadpoles in the pond.  I have noticed this before, I have posted videos of it both of the last two years, but as is the case with all of this work, each year I probe a little deeper.

What I have learned, mostly from experience, followed by a bit of research, is that Bullfrog tadpoles tend to jump out of the water more the closer they get to becoming frogs.  Bullfrog tadpoles overwinter in the pond, with breeding in the late spring, development over the course of the summer, winter under the ice, and a spring growth spurt.  Last year for the first time I was able to capture in pixels first year Bullfrog tadpoles in the fall.  They are much bigger now.

As I did research I found a variety of things on why frog tadpoles jump out of the water, breeching like mini whales.  There is no one definitive answer, but what appears to be the case is that for some species of frogs the breeding ponds can become oxygen depleted, and as the frogs get closer to metamorphosis their lungs start to develop so they can breathe in the air, and need the oxygen.  This begs the question of why they need to expend so much energy jumping almost completely out of the water rather than just swimming to the surface of the pond.  For some species the jumping is a prelude to moving away from oxygen depleted and drying up ponds (always a problem for amphibians) and searching for new ponds.

The Bullfrogs I observe are in no danger of drying out, the pond is permanent, so while it may be oxygen depleted (I am guessing it is from the constant murk of dead algae blooms that color it coffee brown) the frogs are not going anywhere, and there are no other nearby waterbodies to move to except the Moshassuck River 200 yards away.

Some observers have suggested that tadpoles jump to escape predators.  This is entirely possible in some places and with some amphibian species, but in this case that seems most unlikely.  The only predators in the pond that this strategy would work on are snapping turtles, and there are at most 1 or 2 snappers in the pond.  Since the Bullfrog tadpoles are often simultaneously jumping all over the pond, clearly this is not the answer.

The final suggestion I have read is that this is innate behavior in the tadpoles that is preparing them for life as frogs.  As I write this I have no observations of legs on Bullfrog tadpoles yet this year, but that is probably as much due to the difficulty of observing tadpoles in the water in the murk, as anything, as with metamorphosis only 5 weeks away it is likely that legs are developing.  Based on my observations of leg development in Fowler’s Toad tadpoles, which i have studied intensively (check out “6 weeks in 90 Seconds” on the Moshassuckcritters Youtube channel) early stage legs in frogs are not much use, but s they develop the frogs use them more and more in locomotion, though as swimmers rather than jumpers until the front legs break out just as metamorphosis is  starting.

Therefore it is most reasonable to think that as tadpole bodies are slowly preparing to be frogs that jumping would start to become a part of the behavioral repertoire even before the legs are quite ready to use.  The exercising of muscles other than those in the legs that are part of the complex of muscles needed to jump as adult frogs could easily lead to jumping tadpoles with tiny legs.

My research is incomplete, and likely to be more complicated by the serious lack of knowledge/research in the field, so I will have to leave us pondering the relationship between low oxygen ponds and the development process in determing why Bullfrog tadpoles start jumping in May in Providence.  But what ever the reason the breeching mini whales are fun to watch, and I offer up this video.







Speaker Mattiello still wants to give away the farm

To the Editor,

I was horrified to read in the May 20 Providence Journal article entitled “Mattiello: Next pitch is the state’s” that the Speaker of the Rhode Island House is still trying to make a deal over the baseball stadium. Obviously he is not listening to the public. I attended the public forum at Hope HS on May 18 and other than someone who thought they might get a construction job for a few months building the stadium, not one person thought it was a good idea to provide any state or city tax subsidy to a bunch of millionaires trying to extort money from the public by threatening to leave. I am a baseball fan, as were most of the others at the hearing. But none of us thought giving away the public’s money was a good idea, and many thought the site was very flawed.

For a Speaker laser focused on economic development, Representative Mattiello is missing the boat on this too. There is no financial gain for the people from this by any measure, giving a public subsidy to very wealthy people will only serve to increase inequality, and as Picketty demonstrated recently, growing inequality harms economies. Economic development in the 21st Century is a bottom up, not a top down, proposition. That Rhode Island continues to think top down, and gives sweetheart deals to inside players, is why our economy does not work very well.
Greg Gerritt

An open letter to RI Speaker Nicholas mattiello

Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello,

I have been carefully watching the discussion about the effort to move the Pawsox to the Providence waterfront. I do not think it is a good idea, and the public seems to overwhelmingly oppose providing subsidies to this effort. Sometimes it appears that you are the only person publicly talking about trying to cut a deal that includes a public subsidy.

I am aware that you have said that this deal in no way resembles 38 Studios, but in one critical way so far it does. It is being negotiated without the official voice of the people involved. I think you are aware that if there had been public hearings on using the people’s money to fund 38 Studios the State of Rhode Island would not have made such a big mistake that we are still paying for. The second example I offer is one that is rarely mentioned, but may be an even more appropriate example. The proposal to build a container port at Quonset was very strongly supported by the political leadership of Rhode Island. The Governor, the Speaker, the well connected law firms all weighed in on it. But even so there was a very extensive public process, with stakeholders, studies, and public hearings. I was a stakeholder in the process so I am very aware of how well it worked, how much better everyone was informed by the process. The end result was that the more we knew, the worse the deal sounded, and eventually the proponents went away. If the State of Rhode Island had acted upon the first political impulse we would have opened a new port at exactly when the global recession hit and the people of Rhode Island would have been on the hook for about $1 Billiom dollars.

We all know the old expression, all of us collectively are smarter than any one of us. I ask one thing. Before you sign off on any deal, before you commit the people of RI to any financial support of the Providence Waterfront baseball stadium, hold public hearings. Ask the people of Rhode Island for their collective wisdom. The track record of the people on these sorts of things is very good. We saved the state $1 Billion and could have saved another $100 million if we had been allowed to participate in the process. Please publicly commit yourself to a full public process before committing any of our money to the baseball stadium.

Greg Gerritt


Infrastucture Bank versus baseball stadium

Rhode Island needs an infrastructure bank. And while the details are not 100% worked out there is much to recommend in the Governor and General Treasurer’s Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank proposal. Hopefully the details will create a workable infrastructure for the bank, but today lets focus on the idea.

If you take a good hard look at where the RI economy is going, we are in a very low growth phase. The conditions for rapid economic growth do not exist in Rhode Island, and cutting taxes for the rich and dismantling environmental and health regulations are not going to get us there. Given the low growth conditions, the only way to improve the well being of most Rhode Islanders is to create a healthy and resilient infrastructure designed specifically to help our communities respond properly to the climate change, food insecurity, and rising inequality that are currently haunting us.

It really is that simple. So I want to contrast the public investment in infrastructure with the proposal to build a baseball stadium on the Providence waterfront. In the May 3 Providence Journal there is a lengthy article detailing that the proposed baseball stadium would undo all of the efforts to properly manage stormwater throughout the I-195 lands because they would no longer have green open space to absorb water. And it would cost millions to move the stormwater infrastructure already in place.

The people of RI in this case are given a very contrasting set of choices. On one hand give $120 million of the public’s money to some people to build a baseball stadium that would contribute mightily to increasing the cost of managing stormwater, or investing the public’s money in Green Infrastructure that increases community resilience and safety, helps us cope with climate change, and creates more new jobs than a baseball stadium moving jobs that are now a mere 5 miles away. Of course these are not our only choices, but if the people of RI are investing in construction, it is pretty clear which one benefits us more. Support the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.