How a large tadpole spawned my internal warrior

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This tadpole kept me awake at night.

Amanda Kooser / CNET

Editor’s Note: This week we are publishing a special report on the science of happiness and how to strive for it in difficult, complex times. Read more about what research says about how to be happy. how to increase your happiness hormones, Why The pursuit of happiness has a dark side and like a number of people find little opportunities to relax every day. Here is my own story of how I found meaning during the pandemic. Hey everyone got their way right?

Like so many people Try to ward off pandemic-induced despair In the past few months I have had a number of hobbies: Magnetic fishing. Satellite spotting. Puzzles. Sour Dough Bread. And obsessively looking for bullfrog tadpoles. Well, a certain bullfrog tadpole that I called the Chubby Cheeker.

Freaky frogs

Bullfrogs are an invasive species in New Mexico and are common in the United States. They are large suction cups about eight inches in length. Insatiable. Known for eating birds. Birds! If it fits in your mouth, you will eat it. This includes things the size of the precious, innocent little fish that live in my backyard pond. I’m so protective, I shoo roadrunners away, cook elaborate turtle tacos and buy fancy fish food. I wouldn’t let a bullfrog become the tyrannical ruler of my backyard paradise.

That summer, I was a warrior for 10 glorious days, wielding nets and making traps out of water bottles and duct tape. At midnight, I walked over the edges of my little garden pond with a flashlight. In those moments, I didn’t think about bans, deadlines, or politics. It was just me who dealt with Chubby, the incredibly fast Concorde jet of the tadpole world.

It started when a neighbor of Nextdoor was giving away water lettuce that had turned his pond into a jungle. He just wanted to be able to see his fish again, unhindered by a green carpet of water. I went over and shoveled the floating plants and their long dangling roots into a bag, but I didn’t know that there was Chubby in that bag too. Back home, I set the water salad above the water in the pond I made from an old galvanized storage tank.

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The first time I saw Chubby – a large-headed creature the length of a Snickers candy bar – was when I poured the excess water from the bag into the pond. He rode the waterfall like chilling out on Splash Mountain. I immediately realized what it was and my mind was filled with nightmare images of a future bullfrog slurping my fish like living sashimi. I steeled myself for the fight.

Trouble in the pond paradise

Let me tell you about my pond. It’s sunk in the ground and is home to several common goldfish and a shubunkin called Dot. There are too many mosquito fish and pink minnows to name a few. It’s my Albuquerque desert oasis.

My pond is my backyard oasis. You can see the Chubby water lettuce floating near the center of the pond.

Amanda Kooser / CNET

Bullfrog tadpoles mostly eat seaweed and insects, so I knew I had some grace to catch Chubby before he turned into the joey chestnut of fish-eating. My pond is small, about 4 feet wide – you couldn’t even create proper social distance between you and someone else – but it has plenty of hiding spots under roots and rocks. Chubby found out quickly when I examined the water with a net and looked in vain for the little monster with the fat cheeks.

My tadpole hunt began when I was struggling more than usual with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. The only trips I took were to the grocery store. I checked New Mexico COVID numbers every night, watched the spikes, and read the details of the daily deaths. I knew other people had it so much worse than me. I told myself not to feel so down, but the weight was real. Then my new purpose in life became apparent: I had to catch Chubby and save my fish.

Frogger in real life

First, I tried to track down Chubby in daylight, looking for a tell-tale shadow buzzing across the pond. Two days later I switched to a night raid plan. I spotted Chubby sucking the algae off the rock that holds my submerged filter in place. Easy, I thought as I wiped the net through the water. But Chubby was like a Falcon 9 rocket. I didn’t even get any closer.

Chubby and I repeated this dance over the next few nights, spending two to three hours together in the dark. I would point the flashlight at Chubby, who continued to nibble on seaweed without caring about the world. As soon as I got closer, he was gone. Oiled lightning. I’ve never seen an aquatic creature move this fast.

Chubby did not catch this trap, but confused some fish.

Amanda Kooser / CNET

So I did what anyone else in my position would do. I went to YouTube. There I found Dillon L. Fishing’s tutorial on catching tadpoles. I built a trap by cutting up a plastic bottle and baiting it with pre-cooked salad. I left it in the pond overnight. In the morning I strolled out and found two very confused pink minnows.

I would need a bigger trap. I made another one out of a larger bottle and baited it with corn just like Dillon did in the video. The next morning I had successfully caught a mosquito fish. Chubby was too smart for me.

At this point, I had managed to take some photos of Chubby in the water. I examined them for signs of his growing hind legs, the tell-tale first step towards becoming a bullfrog. It had some suspicious bulges. I could feel the sands of time slide through the hourglass.

Nine days later. The traps didn’t work. The networks didn’t work.

Victory is imminent.

Amanda Kooser / CNET

But Chubby’s demise was imminent; Hubris would bring him within my reach. I went out just after 9 that night. I saw Chubby in a new place where he was eating seaweed near the surface of the water. I already had a net in place and lifted it under him, sweeping it up, tail first.

Catch and release

I dropped Chubby into a waiting bucket of water and began a solemn dance around the pond. I took photos and gave him seaweed flakes to eat and a pile of water salad to hide under to get through the night.

Feeling elation, relief, and triumph, I checked Chubby through until midnight to make sure he was safe and comfortable in his temporary accommodations. As I went to bed, I found that I hadn’t checked New Mexico’s coronavirus numbers that night. That could wait until tomorrow.

Chubby Cheeker is now in a pond in the garden center.

Amanda Kooser / CNET

My neighbor didn’t ask about the tadpole so I made other arrangements. I have a friend who is a gardener at the Albuquerque Garden Center, a beautiful little facility in the middle of town with a lovely pond full of koi fish that are too big to fit in a bullfrog’s mouth.

We released Chubby Cheeker in his new home. He swam away from under the lily pad, looking smug as usual.

I had completed my mission to protect my fish. The world may collapse around me, but at least I was smarter than a balloon-cheeked bullfrog tadpole from New Mexico and afterburners that would make an F-16 proud.

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