Get outside, Family!

Get outside, Family!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Identifying creatures in vernal pools

Fairy Shrimp in action. Credit: Jack Ray
We’re still trying to figure out if the ponds we are visiting are true vernal pools, and Betsy Leppo, Zoologist with the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, continues to be a great help. When I told her I’m not finding much sign of life around the ponds we’ve been searching, she said not to give up hope: It may take a few years of observation, through heavy rains and dry springs, to figure out what is happening at a location.

In the meantime, here are some more tips for spotting wildlife at a vernal pool:

  •     Look for egg masses early in the season, from around mid-March to mid-April. They shouldn’t be too tough to spot in small and unvegetated vernal ponds, which offer clear views of the entire pool, Leppo says. We might have to look around a bit in  pools with a lot of vegetation.   
“Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders (the two most common vernal pool indicator amphibians) have large egg masses that are usually floating at or near the surface of the pool,” Leppo says. She suggests checking out this handy guide for identifying different species by their eggs. 

  • By May, many of the larvae have hatched, and some egg masses, like that of the Wood Frog, have fallen apart. But that doesn't mean there aren't interesting things to find. Leppo says we still might be able to locate egg remnants of the Spotted Salamander. “The egg matrix is very durable,” she says.

 The smaller long, thin creatures are mosquito larvae, and the larger
fluttery ones are Fairy Shrimp. Credit: Betsy Leppo

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