Red-eye tree frog eggs
Life is a struggle in nature. With the first rains of the wet season, life in the wild turns to reproduction. Throughout Belize, at small forest swamps, thousands of red-eye tree frogs lay their eggs under leaves above the new water. Within 10 days, the eggs have grown to tadpoles and drop into the water below... unless predators find them first. Here an army of ants is attacking this cluster, pulling at the protective jell surrounding the eggs, the carnage of success visible to the right. Chances for 95% of the eggs laid are slim to none. But the vast number of eggs insures there will be a next generation of red-eye tree frogs.
Second Photo: This is what fecundity looks like in nature. For two or three days, thousands of red-eye tree frogs congregate at a seasonal pond the size of a basketball court to mate and deposit eggs. 90% of the leaves surrounding the pond have multiple egg clusters plastered underneath; every cluster with ~40 eggs. Each egg racing against snakes and lizards and ants and wasps, dessication and leaf drop to develop into a tadpole that drops into the drying puddle below. And then scraping algae from the scum and gobbling wriggling mosquito larvae to continue growing into a delicate, green creature with large red eyes...we must treasure and protect these miracles of life for what they are, part of what makes Belize Belize.
Third Photo: Hours away from breaking out of the fluid-filled egg sack and plummeting into the puddle below; equivalent to a human baby leaving the womb into the hands of a parent. Except the tadpoles are on their own, flung into a foriegn dark environment full of predators, relying on eons of evolved behaviors to eat and grow before the water disappears. And survive and thrive they have ... till now. Their environment is changing so quickly - habitat destruction and climate change - that their behaviors can not keep up. Populations of amphibians - of which the red-eyed tree frog is one - are crashing due to habitat destruction, climate change and disease. Witness and wonder at a rapidly disappearing miracle.
Fourth Photo: The moment of truth arrives. Within seconds, this tadpole will break out of it's fluid-filled bubble and fall four feet into the muddy puddle below. At this moment, does it feel the fear of the unknown? Does it sense the excitement of pending freedom? With it's enormous eyes does it see the wide world all around? Does it even sense what comes next? Does it matter what the tadpole sees, senses or feels? It will drop into the darkness below and disappear among the countless others as either prey or predator...Nature doesn't care, Nature is the miracle of life that just is. This is where we have come from - this wonder of life - and this is what we have forgotten ... this Nature is us.
Photographs by Tony Rath
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