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The beauty and purpose of vernal pools

Hi everyone!  My name is Kelly, and I am the newest member of the Herpetology Team here at Zoo Atlanta!  I moved here at the beginning of February from Southern California, so it was a bit of a climate shock coming into the rainy, green of Atlanta. But having as much rain and greenery as Georgia does has its merits, such as the prevalence of vernal pools.
Vernal pools are one of my favorite places in the world.  They are truly fascinating, teeming with life and purpose, and extremely important in the landscape for many animals, including my favorite … amphibians. Amphibians get a bad rap for being slimy and gross, but really, they are an important asset to have around as they are one of nature’s pest control teams! They love to eat mosquitos, flies, spiders, and many other things we might call pests. And in turn, amphibians provide a nutritious food resource for many other animals such as birds, snakes, otters, foxes, and many others. Which make vernal pools the perfect smorgasbord for many different species! 

But what exactly are vernal pools? Typically, they are small, seasonal pools that form in depressions in the landscape from snowmelt and spring rainfall … so they are sort of like large, lingering puddles in the forest mostly found in the springtime. Which makes sense as the word vernal means “of or related to spring.” Most vernal pools are temporary in nature and will dry up completely by June or July, which prevents the establishment of fish and other aquatic predators. And this fact is what makes these pools so special. Because of this absence of predators, vernal pools provide vital breeding habitats for certain amphibian species, increasing the likelihood of breeding success and survival. Some amphibians rely primarily on vernal pools for breeding, such as wood frogs, spadefoot toads, spotted salamanders, and marbled salamanders. And on warm, rainy spring nights you might see a great migration of amphibians heading to these vernal pools. Unfortunately, a lot of times they need to cross roads in order to get there. As you can imagine, this is not always the safest thing for them to do. But the good news is that there are community science (citizen science) programs where you and your family can help amphibians cross the road!  When I lived in New Hampshire I was a part of one of these “Salamander Brigades” helping these awesome little guys get safely across the road.  In one night, at one location alone, we helped over 100 amphibians cross the road! And in some cases, they even got their local governments to close certain roads during these great migrations! So, check out your local Nature Center to see if there are programs like this around here … I know I will!  Until next time, drive safe and watch out for crossing amphibians (and reptiles)!

Kelly G.
Lead Keeper, Herpetology

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