All my hobbies start off with eager volcanic activity, the kind that makes your heart leap into your throat. After a while, the seismic thrashing subsides, and my level of interest ultimately and abruptly just drops to zero. This is the way I am.
In my post Lions and Tigers and Bears and Me, I mentioned that as a hobby I once raised more than a thousand mice. The year was 1992 and I was 47 years old and still a child at heart. Most people would be happy to have a dozen or less mice, but not me. No, I had to go overboard.
I kept them all in our laundry room spread over more than a dozen cages. My wife finally demanded that I move them somewhere else because of the smell and the constant nibbling and scratching noises. Despite spending more than an hour a day cleaning up, they still packed a mean fragrance, or as my wife called it, a horrible stink.
A local pet shop owner (The Colonial House of Pets in Bayonne) offered to let me use the floor above her store to house my colonies of mice. So for a few months in 1994, I spent up to 3 or 4 hours each day tending to my pets, feeding, cleaning the cages, and culling the newborn mice to trade for food. But then one day, two years after I first started keeping them, with more than 50 mice a day being born under my care, and as usual, I just stopped. I gave them all to the shop owner and never saw them again.
Although I have yet to write about it, from 1953 onwards I also bought dozens of ant-farms ($2.95) from advertisements found in comic books along with ads for X-Ray glasses (95 cents), live sea-monkeys ($1.00), free postage stamps from the Littleton Stamp & Coin Company (I have more than 500,000 stamps), and wholesale greeting cards (I actually made money with those).
When my wife and I first married (1975), we lived at her parent's home in Belford, New Jersey. At that time my father-in-law's in-ground pool had fallen into neglect: a putrid green slime covered the previous autumn's fallen leaves. Indeed there was more muck than water. So it happened one particular summer day when I was not busy canoodling with my new bride that I decided to sit in the shade and relax.
I was interrupted in my reverie by this annoying buzz by the sides of the pool. I arose from my chair and stealthily scooched over near the low end of the pool and saw dragonflies depositing eggs just above the muckline. Looking into the murk I could see tiny bubbles rising from below. With some concentrated squinting I was able to make out countless bugs and tadpoles splishing about.
I immediately went out and bought a one-hundred gallon fish tank, filled it more than halfway with water and waited a day for the municipal chlorine to dissipate. I returned to the pool and scooped up a pailful of the chattering little critters along with mud, twigs, and other grimy slithering things and dumped the whole mess into the tank. It took almost a week for the water to get filtered clean (1) but when it was finally crystal clear, a rapacious and savage world revealed itself. I discovered that a pond, although it seems quiet and tranquil, is in reality quite an aggressive and savage place; viewing it was not unlike watching the Wide Wide World of Animals.
There were thousands of tadpoles, a few hundred dragonfly nymphs, tens of thousands of midge pupae, and uncountable mosquito larvae. The dragonfly nymphs look quite similar to grasshoppers (see image above). Quick and ravenous, they will try to eat everything in sight: tadpoles, other fish, mosquito larvae, whatever moves. Absent any large fish, they are the dominant predator in small ponds, lakes, and seeps.
Tadpoles, on the other hand are more like catfish, cleaning up the bottom of debris and sometimes they even go after aquatic insects such as mosquito larvae. Most of the time, they try to avoid dragonfly nymphs.
Although the survival rate in the wild of dragonfly nymphs can be as low as 10% and take up to 4 years to mature into an adult dragonfly, almost all of mine made it into adulthood in less than a year where they crawled out of the water to moult. In a very short time they would unfold their wings and begin to fly inside my tank.
My father visited me when almost all of the tadpoles had turned into frogs. Most were beached on a sandy area of the tank, and when my father saw what was easily over a thousand tiny frogs, he turned to me and asked, "Zo, how do you make money from zis?"
I tried to explain that it was just a hobby and that I wasn't raising them for cash. He didn't approve.
To feed the frogs I had to raise meal-worms, tens of thousands of meal-worms. In our closet, I had dozens of boxes filled with meal-worms and cereal, but they made a scratchy, scuffling noise during the night that disturbed my wife. Finally she couldn't take it. The crawling sounds along with the rising cacophony of a thousand frogs croaking was too much for her: she asked me to get rid of them all.
It was just as well, I suppose. A few more weeks and the tiny frog babies would have grown so large I would have needed a 5,000 gallon tank to keep them all. Hmmm, ever since I've wondered what a thousand adult frogs would have sounded like in the house.
I used undergravel filtration since this is the closest to the way natural ecosystems work. Also it allows you to keep water insects, small snails, baby fish or eggs from being swallowed by other kinds of filtration systems. It requires the least amount of maintenance without having to change filters or do any cleaning at all.