Willie and James were on their way to school. It had rained very hard during the night, and there were little pools of water standing all along the roadside.
Suddenly James called out, Oh, brother, come here, and look at these queer little frogs that have just rained down. Some of them have quite long tails, and others have no tails at all. I wonder if there are any more like them in the clouds, and he looked upward toward the sky.
Lets take a few of them to school, said Willie.
So they gathered quite a number of the little animals and put them into one of their dinner pails, which they had emptied for that purpose.
When the teacher saw what the boys had brought to school, she was greatly pleased, and promised them a little talk upon the subject; and this is what they learned that day about rain frogs, as they are often called:
Some of these animals were young toads that had been hatched from eggs that the mother toad had laid in a small stream of water not far away.
Toads never go near the water except to lay their eggs, and these are deposited in long chains. From each egg, a very small, jet-black tadpole is hatched; for toads have to pass through the tadpole stage the same as their cousins, the frogs, and when they finally leave the water, their skin is so very tender that they can not endure the heat of the sun.
So they go down into the moist earth, and remain there during the hottest part of the day; but if they hear heavy raindrops falling upon the ground, they come up at once to enjoy the cooling shower; and that is why Willie and James found so many of them along the roadside that morning.
As they grow larger, they shed their warty skins, and a very queer figure they cut, too, as they pull their loose brown coats off, over their heads. Just before this coat is cast off, it becomes quite dry, and its color looks faded and dull.
Presently it begins to split down the back, and
soon after that, small rents appear upon the under side of it.
At about this stage, the poor toad looks ragged enough; but he pays no heed to that, for he well knows that he has a fine, new garment hidden away, underneath. So he proceeds to get rid of the old one as soon as possible.
He twists and turns his body, and uses first a hind leg, and then a fore leg, till at last he is entirely free from his old worn-out suit; but he seems to be very tired after the struggle that he has made.
And what is queerest of all, he rolls the old garment up into a small bundle and swallows it, without so much as a drink of water to rinse it down.
He does not even chew the hard, dry morsel, for he has not a tooth in either jaw.
Toads can dart out their tongues very quickly to catch an insect on the wing; and they are quite as fond of small worms and caterpillars as of the winged dainties that come in their way.
One day a toad chanced to see a large number of small insects flying about a panful of sour dough that had been set out near the chicken coop.
When he was well covered with it he jumped out, and sat very still for awhile; it was not long before the insects began to swarm about him, and behold! his plan was a success; for all he had to do was to dart out his tongue and gulp them down as fast as they came along.
So he hopped along till he came to the pan, and then he hopped into that, and rolled himself over and over in the wet dough.
But what about the other little rain frogs that the boys had collected that morning?
Behold! they were not frogs at all; they were small red newts, or efts; and they are sometimes called land salamanders.
These creatures have a body about two inches in length, and the tail is nearly as long as the body.
They are very shy harmless little things, and they live near the water in cool, damp places. So when the ground becomes hot and dry they bury themselves in the same manner as the toads; but after a shower they come to the surface in large numbers.
In winter they coil themselves up in the earth, and remain there till spring returns.
They are playful creatures, and will run, and chase one another about, as lively as kittens.
Some of them are of a dull, red color, and others are of a bright, orange red, sprinkled with black dots.
They feed on insects, worms, and snails, and are far more helpful than harmful in the world.
Most of them are born in the water, and when first hatched they have the tadpole form.
They are cousins to the water salamanders, so often seen in creeks and small ponds.
But the water salamanders have the back of a deep-olive shade, and the under parts of a rich, orange yellow studded with black dots; while along the sides are small shining spots of flame. Some of them are very beautiful.
These harmless creatures are often found in small streams in Ireland; and many of the peasants believe that if you venture to look down too closely into the water at them, they will leap into your throat and raise a large family of young ones in your stomach.
And they claim that the only remedy for this evil is to find a stream of water running directly toward the south, and to lean over it with the mouth wide open, till the animal jumps out into the stream.
Now we shall not believe such foolish stories as these; neither shall we believe that frogs, newts, or any other living creatures rain down from the sky.
For if we use our eyes and study the habits of these shy neighbors of ours, we shall find that each particular kind has its own work to do, and that every living thing about us was created to act its part in the world.
Dear me! said a very old worker ant, as she bit off a piece of soft earth, and rolled and smoothed it with her feet. Dear me! my teeth are nearly worn out now, and this roadway is not half done yet.
Just look at me! said a nimble young ant, as she stood up on her hind feet and bit off a mite of hard sand above her head.
And just look at me! said a large drone, as he spread four thin wings, and flew out at the open door of the ant-hill.
Yes, you have a fine time of it, Mr. Drone, said the old ant; but any of us could do that, if we had wings.
As she said this, a long line of little ants ran across the roadway, and each one held in her jaws a small, white roll.
Little girl, little boy, you and I have often seen small ants running about in this way, but we did not dream that these tiny white rolls were wee larval babies, did we?
Neither did we know that the nimble little ants that were carrying them about were the nurses of the family. And what faithful little nurses they are!
When the weather is fine, they carry the infants up into the sunlight; but if the sky grows dark, or if a few drops of rain fall, they seize them at once, and take them down into the little bedrooms below.
They pet them, too, and lick them with their little rough tongues, and feed them, from their own mouths, with food which they make ready for them.
Now the queen and the drones are the only ants that have wings; and that is why the old ant said to the drone, We could any of us do that, if we had wings.
The upper two wings are hooked fast to the lower pair; they are much larger than the lower two, and completely hide them when the insect is at rest.
But the queen has no use for her wings after she goes down into the earth; so she unhooks them from her body, and lays them aside; and sometimes the worker ants take them off for her.
Then she goes about laying eggs; and as fast as she drops them, the workers follow her and take care of them. These mites of eggs are of a yellowish white, and are somewhat oval in form.
It takes but a month for the eggs of some kinds of ants to hatch out; but there are other kinds that require a much longer period. For sometimes the eggs are laid in the fall, and they do not hatch out until the next spring; and even after the insect enters the pupa state, it often remains inclosed in its pupa case for six or seven weeks.
Now there were a good many larval babies in this ant-hill. The eggs were laid late in the fall before; and now that spring had come and they were all hatched out, it made a large family for one house.
So it happened, one day, that the same wise old ant who had spoken first, said: There are too many of us here.
What is to be done about it? asked another.
We must look for new quarters, said she.
As she spoke, she drew one of her fore feet through her jaws, two or three times.
Now old as she was, she was a very neat creature, in all her habits. She carried a small hairy brush
on each fore leg, and as soon as she found a mite of dirt upon her body, she brushed it off; and when she wanted to clean the brush, she drew it through her mouth in the way that I have told you.
Now it was not many days after this, that a long line of ants marched out of the door at the top of the hill, and went away to live in a new nest.
That was a good example to set for the others, too; for some of the younger ants, who were watching her, began to brush themselves, without delay.
Busy workers went down under the ground to make new rooms and roadways; a double line of nurses hurried along after them. Some of these nurses carried in their jaws a small, white, legless larval infant, while others carried the pupa cases; and it was not long before there was plenty of room in the old nest that they had left behind.
Many new lines were formed as they went to and fro, and each active little ant seemed to have its own particular work to do.
In fact, they did just as all people do who are
moving; some of them carried a load of valuables to the new home, while others returned, empty-handed for more.