In New England, vernal pools are depressions in the ground that fill with rainwater, snowmelt, and/or rising groundwater. When dry they look like large depressions in the forest with decomposing leaf litter and wetland brush. Pools tend to begin filling with water in late fall but will reach maximum water level in the spring. So after the water level has risen amphibians and their egg masses can be heard and/or seen.
What can you find in a Vernal Pool?In Southeastern Massachusetts, you can find four types of Mole Salamanders: Spotted Salamander, Marbled Salamander, Blue Spotted Salamander, and the Jefferson Salamander. Common frogs found are Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, Gray Tree Frogs, and American Toads The salamanders and frogs use the vernal pools to breed. Wood frogs exclusively use vernal pools for breeding. They are the first to arrive followed by the salamanders. Both the wood frog and all mole salamanders listed above except for the marbled salamander arrive in mid to late March between 7pm-1am on a warm (40°F) rainy night. They are explosive breeders which mean that most of the population arrives and breeds within a few days of each other. The marbled salamander breeds in the fall depositing eggs under moist leaf litter at the pools edge. Once the water rises in the spring the eggs hatch.
Why are Vernal Pools important ecosystems?Vernal pools are temporary wetlands that numerous amphibians rely upon as breeding location. Vernal pools do not contain fish, which are predators to salamander and frog egg masses. Most of the amphibians listed above do not breed in any other type of wetland. Therefore, it is critical we preserve these temporary ponds to protect the amphibians and invertebrates that breed in the pools.
How do we protect Vernal Pools in Massachusetts?
Vernal pools are protected by a volunteer certification program run by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program. It is a simple process that any citizen can do to protect a vernal pool. You can find out more here: mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/natural-heritage/vernal-pools
Other Vernal Pool Resources:
- vernalpool.org – compilation of vernal pool resources, photos, and links
- vernalpool.org/listserv.html – list serve for vernal pool enthusiast
- Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation – Author: Elizabeth Colburn
- Vernal Pools: Ecology and Conservation of Seasonal Wetlands in Northeastern North America – Authors: Aram Calhoun, Phillip G. DeMaynadier,& Phillip G. Demaynadier
- Certified: A Citizen’s Step-by-Step guide to Protecting Vernal Pools (5th Edition) Massachusetts Audubon Society, Author: Elizabeth Colburn