Leeches, Bullfrogs, and other Marvelous Monsters

“It’s a leech!” The cry came from the kids in the water. Friends of Ursula and Virgil were visiting, and all of them were down at the pond.

“Catch it! Catch it!” That was Anna, or maybe Amber. The two girls had buckets of water on the dock and had set up a leech farm. A half dozen of the sinuous creatures swam in each bucket already, but Amber and Anna were happy to add to their stock. Amber scooped a leech out of the bucket. She held it up close to her face. It curled into a fat ball, then lengthened in attempted escape. She expertly turned her hand along with the leech, watching it. “Can I try?” asked one of the smaller kids.

Lots of kids, and adults, too, are afraid of leeches and other creepy crawly slimy animals. The leeches in our pond can be long, six inches or so, with two lines of bright orange or red spots along their tops. They often travel in squadrons of five, like fighter pilots, the lead leech slightly out in front, its mates in formation on either side. Otherwise brave people have fled the water after catching sight of a leech squadron heading in toward our beach.

But not these kids. They fanned out with nets, buckets, and bare hands, looking for the coolest, grossest, most scary animals they could find. Liam, Ian, and Evie hunted crayfish that lurked in the shadows of overhanging bushes, hoping to find the big one they’d glimpsed earlier, the one they’d dubbed “Mr. Pinchy.”

Rayna and Adam stalked the sentry bullfrogs along the shore. They had discovered that captive bullfrogs needed to be kept in isolation, or the larger would take the opportunity of imprisonment to eat the smaller. “No cannibalization allowed!” Rayna declared.

What repulses us can also attract us. The slick green frogs with their wide hinged mouths were beautiful when they croaked, the yellow pouch below their jawline pulsing out with each deep note. But not when the bottom half of another frog squirmed in that same mouth. Then they were monsters — real-life ones, not the ones in books or on TV. And the realness, I think, was a big part of the attraction for the kids. They stared at the creatures from two inches away and studied the colors, felt the textures in their wet hands, tried to mimic sounds and motions. The edge of fear added a thrill, a sense of the visceral, the elemental.

“I used to be afraid of leeches,” eight-year-old Adam said, to no one in particular and to everyone. “Used to” might have been that morning, or the first 20 minutes on the dock. Now he said, “I gotta go catch more things that scare me.” Off he went, looking for more marvelous monsters.

Learn more
… about leeches
… about crayfish. (Ours, I'm sorry to say, is likely an invader species, the rusty crayfish, and probably introduced to our pond by a fisherman.)
… about bullfrogs. (This National Geographic video shows bullfrogs eating, well, just about anything.)

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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