Thursday, July 31, 2008

Responsibilities and territories

Responsibilities in life can sometimes extend long past what you expect. Take the example of my frog.

It all started when we bought Alex an African tadpole in about 1986. In the course of events the tadpole morphed into a frog and we put it into a former terrarium bowl filled halfway with water. At that time we thought it would appreciate a dry spot to sit on so we also put a few rocks into the bowl with one of them extending above the surface of the water. Somewhere in there we also decided that he would like some company in his bowl so Alex caught a tadpole about his size from our pond and put him in the bowl. Big mistake. He tolerated the tadpole for a couple of days and then ate half of him in one night and the other half the next day. Amazingly he didn't seem any bigger after eating that tadpole than before. So we bought a couple of large snails at the pet store figuring that their shells would protect them. Another mistake, the vicious little beast managed to pry the snails off the glass of the bowl and he ate them too.

After that we left him in solitary confinement which seemed to suit him until one day we found the piece of window screen covering the bowl knocked off and the frog gone. I figured we would eventually find his mummified body somewhere behind the furniture but a couple of evenings later I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and eventually recaptured the thing after it had done several impressive broad jumps around the living room. He must have been quietly doing isometrics in his little tank in preparation for his escape because his jumps were about six feet long and about three feet high, pretty amazing since he's only about three inches long.

Meanwhile Alex also morphed, first into a high schooler and then into a college student living away from home, so I ended up as the frog's only protector and caretaker in a home where the other adult sometimes talked of putting him out on the ice in the winter. . .

So here I am, still caring for a twenty year old frog that was supposed to have a life span of a few years. But there have been compensations for my effort for efforts. For one thing the frog is a nearly perfect pet. He lives a quiet contemplative life in his bowl for days at a time unless I get forgetful of him for too long, in which case he splashes and jumps around when he sees me walking past to remind me to feed him. I choose to believe that he's appreciative when I give him a couple of pellets at such times, especially on those occasions when I can tempt him to take a pellet directly from between my fingers. Part of me suspects that he's actually trying to eat my fingers when he gums them and that he would happily eat me if he could somehow drag me into the tank, but who can say what's going on in the mind of a frog.

Another compensation for caring for the frog is that I've attained a small measure of immortality due to something I noticed in 2006 on Wikipedia when I was trying to identify exactly what kind of frog he is. I learned that in the hood he's an "African Clawed Frog" but in polite company he's more properly addressed as a Xenopus Laevis.

But I also discovered that Wikipedia falsely thought he should have long been dead because it said that his lifespan is only a few years.

So I corrected the Wikipedia article by adding an entry about "Xenopus as a Pet" and found that some wikipedians are as combative as my frog. A couple of them leaped at and dismembered my new entry the way my frog dismembered that tadpole. I put it back with a couple of more or less respectful comments about their ancestry and anti-scientific attitudes, and they promptly took it down again. So I waited a few months, as patiently as my frog, and put it back up on the site again, this time with some fake links to nonexistent sources which apparently confused them for a while because it lasted a few weeks before they took it down again. As I write this wikipedia lacks the full fruit of my wisdom, but I've won to a certain extent. The "Xenopus" entry now recognizes that the frog is sometimes kept as a pet, except when it escapes in a place with a climate like San Francisco where it is busily eating all the laid back California frogs it can get its claws on. And the "African Clawed Frog" entry recognizes that the little devils can live for up to thirty years.

For now both I and my frog will accept those concessions. But I'll be back at Wikipedia to fight again once my frog passes thirty years old in 2016.

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