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Science Comes Alive: Discover Signs & Sounds of Vernal Pools

Science Comes Alive: Discover Signs & Sounds of Vernal Pools

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Did you know that 2014 is the Year of the Salamander?
Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and conservation groups from around the world have designated 2014 as the Year of the Salamander. Through this unprecedented partnership, organizations and individuals will work together to raise awareness of salamanders as well as scale up global salamander conservation, education, and research efforts.

See (and hear!) a snippet of vernal pool life >>

Bartholomew's Cobble: salamanders

Find out about this year's salamander activity across the state >>

By Julie Richburg, PhD
Regional Ecologist, The Trustees of Reservations

It’s been a long, cold winter, and, for those of us who like snow, there have been ample opportunities for skiing, showshoeing, sledding, and skating. But I can feel that spring is just around the corner, and I’m eagerly awaiting its first sounds. There are many of course: the spring serenades of red-winged blackbirds, robins, and other songbirds; the pitter-patter of April showers; and the splashing of small human feet in puddles. But one of my most anticipated sounds of spring, though, is the chorus of wood frogs echoing from vernal pools across the landscape.

Wood frogs are one of several species that are dependent upon vernal pools for breeding and survival. Vernal pools are generally small seasonal pools found throughout Massachusetts that fill up with water for part of the year, but don’t hold it long enough to support populations of fish. Some vernal pools fill up in the late fall or winter, some in early spring, and there are even some that buck the “vernal” name and hold water all year long. Usually, vernal pools completely dry up by the middle or end of the summer each year, or at least every few years. The key, biologically speaking, is that they don’t support fish, which is critical to the reproductive success of many amphibians (wood frogs, spotted salamanders) and invertebrate species (fairy shrimp, caddisfly larva) that rely on breeding habitats free of fish predators. 

Any day now, an exciting thing will happen: when we get a big soaking rain with a nighttime temperature over 40 degrees, the amphibian migration to vernal pools will happen. Be on the lookout for wood frogs and spotted salamanders crossing a wooded road near you, and listen for the calls of the wood frogs (which sounds like quacking). These solitary species spend most of the year in the woods surrounding the pools, and only come to the vernal pools in the spring to breed before heading back into the uplands. Our chances of seeing some of the most secretive salamanders will come if we’re lucky enough to observe them during their move to the pools, or during their brief time in the pools themselves. And they are impressive little creatures!

Some vernal pools are protected by the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act regulations and local bylaws. Families, citizen scientists, and other vernal pool enthusiasts can document what species are using a particular vernal pool and then send that information into the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, who will officially “certify” the pool. Join The Trustees’ at one of our many properties to learn more about the species that rely on vernal pools as well as how to certify a pool to ensure that it is able to support these species into the future.

And enjoy the springtime serenade!


Learn more about vernal pools with us this spring!

Creature Feature: Salamanders & Frogs
March 22
Ravenswood Park, Gloucester

Salamander Soirée
Late March/Early April, depending on conditions
Southeastern MA Bioreserve, Freetown
Contact bioreserve@ttor.org for details.

Vernal Pool Workshop
April 10 & May 3

Life in a Vernal Pool
April 12
Bartholomew's Cobble, Sheffield

Spying on Spring Peepers
April 12
Crane Wildlife Refuge, Ipswich

Vernal Pool Exploration/Certification Workshop
April 19
Agassiz Rock, Manchester

Vernal Pool Certification Workshop
April 27
Bartholomew's Cobble, Sheffield

"Year of the Salamander" Vernal Pool Hike
April 27
Mount Warner, Hadley

Published March 2014