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Nature Notebook – Vernal Ponds

Vernal, or seasonal ponds, are vital to the life cycle of many species of animals. These ponds lack fish species, which would feed on smaller amphibians and invertebrate that use the ponds as part of their breeding cycle.

Spring is the time of year to go out and explore these interesting ponds. Vernal means occurring in the spring equinox, and later in the season and into summer, these ponds will dry up for the rest of the year. They are temporary wetlands formed in shallow ground depressions from spring snowmelt, precipitation, or a rising water table. They are generally less than 40 yards in diameter and no more than four feet deep and are a host to a variety of species.

You may be first drawn to these ponds at this time of year by the calling of frogs, such as spring peepers, or the less common wood frog. Male frogs call do the calling to find a mate, and females will lay their eggs in masses around vegetation after mating is completed. Wood frogs almost exclusively lay their eggs in vernal ponds.

Many salamander species also take advantage of these temporary ponds, mating and laying their eggs in the ponds, as the eggs and larvae, or efts, need water to complete the first parts of their life cycle.

When the tadpoles and larvae of these amphibians emerge, it can sometimes be a race against time to mature before the pool dries up.