A springtime rite of passage, vernal pools are usually natural depressions that collect moisture during the spring months and become vital breeding grounds for different species of amphibians.
Unfortunately, many of these impromptu pools are found in high-traffic areas where they can be disturbed and the eggs, tadpoles and other aquatic life can be disrupted by external sources. As a way to raise awareness about specific vernal pools, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association has created signs that can be purchased and posted near them.
Triggered by spring rains and increasing soil and water temperatures, these amphibians seem to seek out pools with which they have an ingrained familiarity, according to Beam.
“They have a fidelity to a specific area where there is a vernal pool. Not a lot is known about where there is a lot of crossover from one pool to another from one year to the next – it can be difficult to track these little guys,” he said. “However, there seems to be a drive for them to return to the vernal pool where they are born.”
Which is why it is important to protect vernal pool areas, even after they are used for reproduction.
“If there are frogs breeding in the pool or either the egg masses or larva that have hatched from the eggs, destroying a vernal pool would cause them to die. Without water to support them, they would just dry up and die,” Beam said. “By removing a pool after breeding season, the next spring when frogs or toads or salamanders come back and can’t find the pool, they would have to travel farther to a new area and may not survive. Maybe they’d have to cross a road where they could get run over, or predators would pick them off or they just couldn’t find a suitable new place to breed.”
Identifying a vernal pool is a good first step in protecting it.
“You want to look for a shallow depression that holds water in the springtime. By summer, you likely wouldn’t realize it was there because it would lack water unless it was an unusually wet summer,” he said. “If you find a shallow pool with salamanders or frogs around it – or egg masses specifically this time of year – that would be a good indicator. If it has fish in it or excessive vegetation growing out of it, the feature likely isn’t a vernal pool.”
Sunbury resident Doug Fessler, who discovered several vernal pools along dirt trails near Sunbury that were heavily used by ATV and bike riders, is encouraged by the effort to raise awareness via the new signs.
"Clean water is so important for our local communities and society as a whole. Amphibians are very sensitive to environmental toxins and we can watch them to monitor the health of our waterways," he said. "They are 'canaries' in the coal mine for local areas. We need take care of these features so we can have clean water not only for ourselves today, but also for generations to come."
The vernal pool signs are available for purchase through the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association for $20. They are 18-inch by 24-inch and feature a "do not disturb" message across the top, with some small tadpole graphics and warn people that "Vernal pools play a critical role in the fragile early stages of certain species' life cycles." The signs also encourage people to check out additional info about vernal pools at the association's website and offer a contact email for those who have additional questions or concerns.
"A large part of raising awareness and educating the public comes from having an open discussion about important topics, such as the importance of vernal pools," said Zaktansky. "We encourage people to reach out, ask questions and engage in conversation about these topics as a way to learn more and spread the word."
For more information, visit our vernal pool webpage: www.middlesusquehannariverkeeper.org/vernal-pools.html
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.