This month Jim is talking about Vernal (or Ephemeral – lasting for a very short time), pools. He’s also included YouTube videos of the Wood Frog and Spring Peepers!
An interesting ecosystem at the park that often goes unnoticed are the vernal pools. Sometimes referred to as ephemeral pools, they can be found throughout the park from the high ridges down to the river and lake. The majority of them are temporary and form from the melting snow and runoff from rain. This unique freshwater habitat serves as an essential breeding habitat for many species of wildlife, including salamanders and frogs.
One of my favorite times of the year is when I first hear the spring peeper and wood frogs calling on the first warm Spring days. If you want to see them you have some patience and stay very still and quiet. Here are some links to their calls:
The results of all that calling end up as newly hatched tadpoles from fertilized eggs. When most folks hear the word tadpole, only frogs and toads come to mind. However, another amphibian that uses this unique habitat are the salamanders. One of the most common salamanders found in our park is the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), also called the Red Eft based on the terrestrial juvenile form. The bright color is a classic example of warning coloration, as they produce toxic compounds that make them unpalatable to potential predators.
Recently up on the Red Ridge trail I came across a pool that had several fat newts feasting on the mosquito larvae in the water. If you take a water sample from these pools, you will see it is teeming with a variety of insects and crustaceans along with protozoa. There are many interesting predatory interactions including the fore mentioned mosquito / salamander interaction. (Have you thanked a newt today ?!)
Since by definition most of these pools are seasonal, drying out in late spring / summer, these organisms have adapted ways to survive during these conditions. Many withstand these circumstances, (a term called aestivation), by forming protective cysts, cocoon like capsules, or as eggs waiting for the water to return. You can actually take a small sample of the leaf litter and soil from the bottom of a dried out pool, place it in water, and like magic life shows up!
So the next time you are hiking through the park, take the time check out this important habitat.
Jim is the Friend’s Treasurer and a retired science teacher. He is a avid hiker and has a constant thirst for discovery of all the natural features in the park. Living close to the park, he regularly hikes the miles of trails and captures his finds in photos. We enjoy and appreciate his collection and will profile many of his discoveries in the new year. If you have any questions for Jim – he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org