News & Updates
Moshassuck Tadpoles

Friends of the Moshassuck thanks the RI Rivers Council for their financial support of this project.

Check out the Moshassuck Critters Youtube Channel for new videos being posted often. The videos below represent some of the collection:

Heron and Fish (4 minutes, 35 seconds)

The 2016 Rainwater Pool Series

January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December

Twists and Turns of a Tadpole Tale

Moshassuck North Burial Ground Videos 2016

1. May Wildlife at the NBG (3 minutes, 17 seconds)
2. Fowler's Toads and one Gray Treefrog calling (2 minutes, 7 seconds)
3. Blue Heron hunting (7 minutes, 48 seconds)

Moshassuck Burial Ground Ponds Videos 2015

1. Fowler Toad Season 2015 (13 minutes, 49 seconds)
2. Birds of the Burial Ground 2015 (13 minutes, 57 seconds)
3. First legs of the season (1 minute, 7 seconds)
4. Fowler's Toad Tadpoles on July 5 2015 (3 minutes, 17 seconds)
5. Toad and Tree Frog calls (1 minute, 19 seconds)
6. The Calling Bullfrog (24 seconds)
7. Pond Life on a Sunny Afternoon (10 minutes, 1 second)
8. Jumping Bullfrog Tadpoles (1 minute, 52 seconds) Accompanying story

Story of Gray Tree Frogs

Moshassuck Turtle Pond Video 2014

Scenes from a Turtle Pond (10 minutes, 32 seconds)

Moshassuck Tadpole Pond Videos 2014

1. Fowler Toads, Six Weeks in 90 Seconds (90 seconds)
2. Development of Fowler Toads, Providence 2014 (9 minutes, 7 seconds)
3. Tadpoles Of All Sizes (7 minutes, 33 seconds)
4. Tadpoles Approaching Summer (2 minutes, 1 second)
5. First Tadpoles of Spring (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
6. First Turtles of Spring (35 seconds)

Moshassuck Tadpole Pond Videos 2013

1. Final Tadpole 2013 (5 minutes, 21 seconds)
2. Tadpole development 2013 (8 minutes, one second)
3. Gray Tree Frogs development in 90 seconds (1 minute, 36 seconds)
4. Gray Tree Frogs calling at night (35 seconds)
5. First Tadpoles of Spring (3 minutes, 29 seconds)
6. Bullfrog sunning (52 seconds)
7. Turtles at the NMG on a sunny morning (27 seconds)
8. Rare Oriole-sighting at the tadpole ponds (3 minutes)

Moshassuck Tadpole Notes

May 27, 2015

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.

December 27, 2013

After several years of observations, with a little funding from the Rhode Island Rivers Council I began a video project to record wildlife in Providence's North Burial Ground, with an emphasis on the tadpoles in a little drainage swale near the maintenance building. The Misadventures of an Urban Naturalist tells some of that story. There is also a larger and permanent pond in the burial ground, and it may be the best wildlife watching place in all of Providence. The Bullfrogs of the larger pond were always of interest, but in some ways I used them as a back up, something else to focus on in case the drainage swale went dry and produced no tadpoles. As I noted above, the larger pond has an abundance of wildlife, 3 types of heron, ducks, geese, cormorants, kingfishers, and swifts, as well as songbirds in profusion, muskrats, occasional otters, a growing population (from 6 to 14 over the last few years) of painted turtles, several varieties of fish, and bullfrogs.

The size of the pond, the inaccessibility of various parts of the shoreline, and the murkiness of the water means that unlike the drainage swale certain parts of the bullfrog life cycle are inaccessible. The most obvious missing piece is that I have never seen, let alone filmed, the early stages of bullfrog tadpole life. Fowler's Toads and Gray Tree Frogs complete their breeding cycle in one season. They mate, the eggs are laid, the tadpoles develop and the frogs and toads hop away from the pond between May and August. Bullfrogs overwinter as tadpoles the first year. Bullfrogs mate later in the season, so the tadpoles are in the water from July until the following July. I have never seen the newly hatched tadpoles in the late summer. They do not appear to swim near the surface close to shore, so I have no idea where they are.

What I do see of tadpoles is the tadpoles that have overwintered in the pond beginning in May, once the water warms up. They float near the surface, swim around, jump out of the water, and are generally visible nearly every day. What gets my attention is the jumping, and the video that accompanies this essay reflects that fascination with jumping tadpoles, including the use of slow motion so the motion can be seen a bit more clearly.

In the spring, in addition to the tadpoles, there are the frogs that have overwintered. I have a collection of shots of the various frogs that have overwintered, the rogues gallery. There is nothing systematic about these shots, I take them when I find a frog in range,. I know there are not very many frogs in the pond in the spring, but it would take a much more scientific approach than I can muster to actually determine the population size.

The transformation from tadpole to frog in early July is fast. I have found only one shot that shows a Bullfrog tadpole with legs, in contrast to the abundance of footage I have of Fowlers Toads and Gray Tree Frogs with legs, It seems like one day there is an abundance of jumping and milling tadpoles, the next day there are no tadpoles, but the shoreline of the pond is covered in small frogs. To give some sort of reckoning of the new abundance I came up with the idea of capturing on film how many take off when I go near them. I have shots from 2 locations, in the northwest corner of the pond near the outflow and looking north from the peninsula/point in the center of the pond on the western shore. Slow motion is again used to show more details.

After the new frogs show up the herons become more common (Green and Night as well as Great Blue) and the population slowly dwindles under the predation until they go to sleep for the winter in the bottom of the pond, waiting for spring and the chance to do it again. I retreat into editing, waiting for spring and a chance to see the pageant of life played out in a pond again.

Moshassuck Tadpoles 2012

The last few years it seems like my favorite times of year are tadpole season and menhaden season. Menhaden show up in the urban upper Bay most years beginning in late August and i take every chance I can to go watch the schools.

Tadpole season is right now in late June. In Providence’s North Burial Ground there are two ponds. Many people are familiar with the bigger of the two ponds. It sits below the esker, has vegetated buffers, has a bench near the point under the Oak.

It is a lively place. Over the years I have seen Otter, Muskrat, turtles, frogs, fish, 3 kinds of herons, egrets, swifts, swallows, bats, and myriad smaller birds. But my favorite is the jumping tadpoles. Today the overwintering bullfrog tadpoles were jumping. They are about 3. inches long, pretty solidly built, and with hundreds in the pond there is a steady stream of tadpoles rising an inch above the surface of the water. I am not sure why they rise, but it is fun to watch.

Yesterday Michael pointed out a jelly mass with hundreds of tiny black eggs sitting on the surface next to the shore, so I will be keeping my eyes on those the next few weeks. And today, for the first time all spring, I got a good look at the big bullfrog that I regularly hear jump when I get to the pond. I managed to get close enough for a good look without spooking it. My lucky day.

The other pond is near the maintenance building in a low spot in an open field. It fills with road runoff when it rains, and is probably pretty close to the level of the river, which is flowing under I-95 when it goes by. Most of the year it appears to be nearly devoid of life, but for a few weeks in the spring, right now in fact, there are hundreds of Grey Tree Frog tadpoles.

Right now it looks like there are 3 size classes of tadpoles. Probably born 3 or 4 days apart. Yesterday it seemed like it was hatching day for the youngest tadpoles. Right on the shore line in the tiny coves the shoreline was black with tadpoles. Thousands in a square foot. Today the congregations were gone, and it looked like there were a lot fewer tadpoles. My explanation of the day is that the Killdeer that nest in the field seem to have fledged young birds that are now leaving the nest. When i got to the pond a larger bird and two smaller birds seemed to be hunting in the shallows. They could have been catching anything, but the obvious choice is tadpoles.

Over the next few weeks it will be enjoyable to watch the tadpoles grow, and then grow legs. One day I will come by and there will be hundreds of little frogs in the grass next to the pond, and two days later they will be dispersed for the year, and if you did not know, you would never guess what a spectacle of life you have missed.

Moshassuck Tadpoles 2011

June 11

I am thinking the bullfrog tadpoles in the NBG pond are starting to develop legs, and it almost seems as if there are more frogs every day from last year’s tadpoles, but it is unclear.

At the little pond the Grey Tree Frogs have been starting to leave the pond, and dispersing to the trees, with the first sighting of transformed froglets on Wednesday. Friday I went with my little niece so I brought a net for netting tadpoles, and she loved them. I also got to see the various stages of leg development and how it related to tail shrinkage. Today the transforming tadpoles were sitting on a white piece of trash in the pond and with the contrasting background, as opposed to the mud of the pond, it was easy to see the legs. Almost every tadpole has legs, and I expect they pond will be empty of tadpoles in a week or 10 days.


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Providence, RI 02906

Telephone: 401-331-0529

© 2006-2023 Friends of the Moshassuck, all rights reserved. Images by, Mr. Ducke, and Jim Hendrickson.