mercredi 24 juin 2009

Mud guardian babies

A newly hatched tadpole


You can't see it? Click on the photo to see an enlarged version. It's right smack in the middle of the photo, at four o'clock from the lily pad farthest to the right, between it and the dark gray mark on the corner of the rock just in front of the base of the bird bath.

See it?

It's been such a strange and emotional day at the fish-pond-in-a-fountain. It started ordinarily enough. I went out to feed the fish when Audouin left, and I spied the Shubunkin -- one of the two smaller ones I got last, at Truffaut -- I suspect of having fin rot. It was hiding out under some vegetation along the edge of the basin. I went and got the blue net I bought in Portsall, I think it was, back in April to catch the frogs when we repaired the basin and the plastic bag from yesterday's failed attempt. It was an easy catch.

Too easy.

The little fish squirmed in my hand as I slipped him into the bag, trying to get a better look at his scales. He looked like a fish leper, bits of whitish flesh trailing off him here and there with more bits of his fins filling the water in the plastic bag. I secured the bag to the edge of the basin, using a potted geranium, and went to wash out a clear plastic tub. He'd have to wait in the car while I saw my PT. Better make him comfortable.

I felt only a little bit silly as I walked into the store, noting along the way that the electronic doors were indeed working better now that it isn't raining. I sat the fish in the plastic tub on the customer service counter, while the young woman helped the manager and a customer, who kept smiling beneficently at me. I felt suddenly very conscious of my sweat-stained work-out clothes and wild hair. I tried my best to look extremely put-together, despite myself. In France, you shower and dress before you leave the gym. When will I ever be able to get myself to do that? Their business completed, the young woman turned to me and my fish.

"Bonjour, Madame." Mademoiselle, but it's a reflex. "Mon poisson à l'aire d'avoir une infection bacterielle. Pourrais-je parler avec quelqu'un en rayon de poisson de basin?"

"Bien sur, je vous l'appelle tout de suite." I looked about the store and chatted with my ailing fish, trying to look put-together and nonchalant. Another young woman approached. We exchanged politenessess.

"Excusez-moi d'arriver dans cet état, mais j'étais un peu pressée; mon poisson ne va pas très fort." She leaned down and looked closely at it. I noted the absence of a stethoscope around her neck, but she looked like she knew what she was doing. She pursed her lips ever so slightly and nodded.

"Il a des boutons blancs. C'est la pourriture des nageoirs." Fin rot. I nodded.

"Ce que je pensais. Je peux le traiter?"

"Bien sur." He was going to survive.

"Mais, ça vient d'ou? Quand je l'ai acheté, il n'avait pas l'aire très fringuant, pas que je mets le magasin en cause!" In France, it always helps to not accuse, or even suggest fault on the part of the store or anyone, for that matter.

"Il y a souvent un poisson dans un lot qui soubis les attaques des autres, qui est un peu à l'écart, et les autres l'agressent. Ca le stresse, il y peut avoir ce genre de réponse." My poor fish. What was I to do in the face of his likely weakness and retiring nature?

"Vous avez des poissons plus grands?"

"Non, pas vraiment. La plupart sont de sa taille. Il y a deux shubunkin qui sont plus grands, mais pas plus que ça." I showed her with my fingers the size of the largest shubunkin and goldfish. She nodded again and took me to find the right antibacterial product, confirmed that it would be ideal to treat this one apart, if I could -- I could --, and sent me on my way, leaving me to wonder if he is going to find courage and become more sociable, or get this all over again.

"Dis au revoir à la dame," I said to my fish in his plastic tub.

"Au revoir," said the fish, through me. The young woman behind the counter laughed.

I am such a comic.

Arriving home, my arms loaded with the fish tub, my gym bag, a bottle of water, the keys and a baguette, I see, clear as can be, a largish frog lying on the grass. Dead. No mistaking it. He was definitely not alive. My heart sunk and my stomach turned over, watching the fly on his hind quarters. I went and dumped my stuff, placing the fish in the tub on the steps, and got the smaller fish net to carry him to the cuttings bin.

What had happened? He didn't look injured. He looked like he had merely stopped in his tracks, about a meter from the basin, on the house side. His eyes were sunken and black. Poor frog. His belly looked so white in the harsh June noon sun.

"Mom? I have to go soon." No time to mourn the frog, my sun had come out onto the balcony to inform me that he was in a great hurry to get to his SVT bac. Sciences de la vie et de la terre. I was having an earth science day myself.

"I was just about to make you lunch."

"No. I've got to run. I'll stop at the boulangerie. Oh, and I am going to Camille's after; she is having a barbecue to celebrate. They've all finished the bac." They being his classmates from last year, whose parents did not feel the need to ask them to redo their year. He was wearing Japan Rags shorts, a pair of very worn and formerly white Kawasakis and a red Abercrombie sweatshirt. The facial hair forming a rather hip looking beard stood out all that much more.

"Are you wearing that for your bac?"

"Mom, there are two teachers, one from my school and one from another school, watching us. It's not like the oral; they're not judging me."

"Oh." I knew that. "Good luck. I'll be thinking of you. Have fun at Camille's."

"I'll have my cell phone on." Thanks, Sam.

I returned to filling the green garbage can with 20 liter watering cans full until I got to close to 100 liters, added the required amount of antibacterial stuff, stirred and suspended the fish with fin rot in his plastic bag from the edge to let him acclimate before going off to see if any others look like they could use a time-out in the fin rot bath, when I noticed that one of the aquatic plants that is usually halfway across the basin over there was now here, practically on top of the rocks in the second tier bird bath Audouin had knocked off and placed in the basin years ago. What was it doing there? I climbed onto the ledge of the basin, steadied myself and leaned out over the water, grabbing the frond closest to me and pulling it.

There was movement. Little bodies darted in all directions in a sudden panic. I looked closer, nearly falling in with them and the fish.

Tadpoles!

But how? Why? Who?

I mean who moved the plant over there how and why? I know how frogs make babies. Sort of.

These are most likely Pelophylax kl. esculentus, although they look a lot like Pelophylax bergeri. Pelophylax (Pelo meaning "mud" and phylax meaning "guardian", in Greek) being a subspecies of Rana, or the frog family, which is aquatic.

The reasons ours can't be P. bergeri is that 1) in France, they are only found in Corsica, being Italian in origin, like Napoleon, while P. esculentus is found all over the top half of France; and, 2) they are smaller than the size P. esculentus can obtain, which corresponds to ours.

The call is also unmistakably that of P. esculentus. You can listen at the bottom of each of the links above.

Then it occurred too me. I had been wondering what the gelatin-like stuff was surrounding the tips of the fronds of this particular plant. It looked like algae, and I had nearly pulled it off. It was, nearly undoubtedly, frog eggs.

What is left to understand is who pulled it over to the rocks and lily pads in the shallower water? Would the frogs do that themselves, to protect the hatched tadpoles?

And, will wonders truly never cease?


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