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Information About Vernal Pools
Vern and Speedy relax at a vernal pool.

Physical description of a vernal pool
A vernal pool is a contained basin depression lacking a permanent above ground outlet. In the Northeast, it fills with water with the rising water table of fall and winter or with the meltwater and runoff of winter and spring snow and rain. Many vernal pools in the Northeast are covered with ice in the winter months. They contain water for a few months in the spring and early summer. By late summer, a vernal pool is generally (but not always) dry. Below are views of the same pool at three different times of the year.

frozen pool wet pool dry pool

Vernal pools may be found in a variety of different locations.

Biological description of a vernal pool
A vernal pool, because of its periodic drying, does not support breeding populations of fish. Many organisms have evolved to use a temporary wetland which will dry but where they are not eaten by fish. These organisms are the "obligate" vernal pool species, so called because they must use a vernal pool for various parts of their life cycle. If the obligate species are using a body of water, then that water is a vernal pool. In New England, the easily recognizable obligate species are the fairy shrimp, the mole salamanders and the wood frog.

Obligate vernal pool species
shortcut to fairy shrimp informationFairy shrimp are small (about 1 inch) crustaceans which spend their entire lives ( a few weeks) in a vernal pool. Eggs hatch in late winter/early spring and adults may be observed in pools in the spring. Females eventually drop an egg case which remains on the pool bottom after the pool dries. The eggs pass through a cycle of drying and freezing, and then hatch another year when water returns. The presence of fairy shrimp indicates that a water body is a vernal pool.

shortcut to information about woodfrogsWood frogs are an amphibian species of upland forests. They venture to vernal pools in early spring, lay their eggs, and return to the moist woodland for the remainder of the year. The tadpoles develop in the pool and eventually follow the adults to adjacent uplands. The presence of evidence of breeding by wood frogs (chorusing or mating adults, egg masses or tadpoles) indicates that a pool is a vernal pool.

shortcut to information about mole salamandersThe mole salamanders are also upland organisms. They spend most of their lives in burrows on the forest floor. Annually, on certain rainy nights, they migrate to ancestral vernal pools to mate and lay their eggs. They soon return to the upland. The eggs develop in the pool and, by the time the pool dries, the young emerge to begin their life as a terrestrial animal. Evidence that mole salamanders breed in an area make that water body a vernal pool. Breeding evidence would be a breeding congress, spermatophores, egg masses or larvae.