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Vernal Ponds

 

Rich vital habitats known as vernal ponds, burst with music during spring in neighborhoods. Vernal ponds are temporary but contain water into summer. Most lose standing water during the summer months but might keep shallow pools. They are vital habitats for frogs and salamanders because their drying prevents fish survival.

Fish eat eggs and tadpoles in permanent water reducing amphibian survival. Ephemeral ponds contain water long enough for the tadpoles to transform to adult air breathing individuals. Once grown, they leave the pools and return to reproduce in subsequent springs.

In essence, life springs from temporary spring ponds. Frogs and salamanders move to woodland habitats and wild residential yards to feast on insects and worms. In summer, my daughter found daily roosts for Gray Tree Frogs in nooks at corners of the house siding. At night they come out to feed. American Toads dig holes in the garden under footpath stones or rocks for daytime hiding. At night they sits like a stone statues waiting for insects or worms.

The first songs of spring come from Wood Frogs that are an obligate vernal pond species. That means they cannot survive without temporary ponds. Their singing starts when some ice remains. Loud and abundant songs come from Spring Peepers and Western Chorus Frogs during April and May. These tiny frogs have bodies the size of an adult’s thumbnail. When you walk by a pond, they quiet but if you stop and sit a few minutes the choral group resumes its serenade. First one brave individual starts and quickly others join.

Egg masses are laid and males fertilize them. Eggs develop in two to three weeks depending on temperature and tadpoles hatch. They breathe with gills while feeding on plant material. Tails absorb and disappear as legs grow. By the time the pond is drying, breathing transforms from external gills to internal lungs. They also breathe through a thin moist skin that must stay moist to function.

When the frogs leave the ponds to take up summer residence in forest and shrublands, they usually stay within 700 hundred feet of breeding pools. Having many small vernal ponds throughout the woodlands is important. Temporary ponds frequently get filled during construction of housing developments. If you are fortunate, you might have a vernal pond near you.

A neighbor advertised he wanted free clean fill for a vernal pond on his property. Contractors looking to dispose of material obliged and after several years filled this pond. The owner now has high dry ground posted for sale. It is temping to destroy nature niches to increase family income. I encourage people to value the lives and the benefits provided by wild neighbors by allowing their home to exist.

Allowing wild places in your yard is a way for nature to thrive among our growing human urban/suburban population land development. Nature’s life forms are a gift trying to share living space with us. We can be stewards of the natural world by allowing life’s places to abound.

Many wildlife species depend on amphibians. Even if you do not see frogs, they are important members of the food chain. I appreciate frogs for song, as agents of natural insect control, and appreciate they share our residence. Sparingly use fertilizers and pesticides. A well-manicured garden and lawn looks beautiful but usually spells death to most life. I prefer abundance of life instead of a picture perfect yard. Organizations schedule outings to Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary to experience life where over 100 bird species, 24 mammal species, 11 amphibians, and 51 butterfly species enrich our lives. We’ve documented about 250 plant species. A trout fisherman was hopeful at creek side recently.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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