|A male wood frog floating in a vernal pool, March 23, 2013|
In a pool behind the Bedford Audubon Society's HQ I found THOUSANDS (!!!) of wood frogs (Rana sylvaticus) doing what wood frogs do at this time of year: float, quack and mate. These 2 inch amphibians live most of their lives on land but lay their eggs in water and rely on the safety of fish-free vernal pools to do so. During the first warm and wet days of spring wood frogs congregate in impressive numbers in the shallows of a vernal pool and get directly to business. Below is a picture of wood frogs mating. The larger, pinkish female is below the smaller and browner male. Both sexes contain a black mask over their eye, which helps in identification.
|Female (larger, underneath) and male (smaller, above) wood frogs mating.|
Wood frogs have attained a good bit of fame due to their amazing overwintering strategy, which is described in the following videos.
Another frog found in vernal pools is the spring peeper, (pseudacris crucifer) whose very loud 'PEEP', 'PEEP', 'PEEP' can be heard echoing from wetlands at great distances. You have probably heard this little frogs before, but maybe you haven't seen one in action (they are certainly impressive). For a great look at the peeper in action, check out this video (I am sorry about the advertisement before this video - believe me, its worth it)
Back at the Armstrong Preserve's vernal pool, I found something that may rival the freezing frogs: fairy shrimp. These 1/2 inch - 1 inch long crustaceans in the Eubranchipus genus swim near the water's surface and take cover as shadow's pass by. The fairy in the picture below is carrying an egg sack on her back, which will be deposited in the pool where it will sit for a year before hatching.
|A female fairy shrimp carrying an egg sack|
Unfortunately, life isn't always easy for animals that inhabit vernal pools. For centuries, vernal pools (and wetlands of all types) were seen as valueless to humans and were drained, filled and developed. Thankfully, times are changing. Now vernal pools (and wetlands of all types) are the subject of public interests, scientific research and conservation. Wood frogs, fairy shrimp and mole salamanders (which I have not yet seen in my nearby pool) are consider 'vernal pool obligates' because vernal pools are the only known habitats in which they beed. The future of these amazing animals would be critically imperiled if vernal pools were destroyed. For this reason, the Armstrong Preserve's vernal pool is protected, valued and used as an outdoor classroom to educate others about protecting vernal pools on their property. Although many municipalities have wetland regulations on the books, vernal pools could always receive more protection. Vernal pools are connected to the surrounding forests by the wildlife that move between both. Any harm that comes to the nearby forest will be passed on to the vernal pool. Forest and pool protection go hand in hand.
You and vernal pools
There may be a vernal pool in your backyard. Do you hear frogs in the spring? Is there a seasonally flooded pond in your forest? This website will help you identify a vernal pool from other wetlands. For a fantastic resource on vernal pools, their natural history and conservation, written by the region's pool expert, Dr. Elizabeth Colburn, see this book. If your property contains one of these pools, you can expect to spend many hours studying its fascinating wildlife. Protect it, and it will reward you with its beauty.