Mapping Vernal Pool Habitats Hosts Loads of Learning
Mapping Vernal Pools
Vernal pools are the breeding grounds for some of spring’s most exciting life – literally! Not only are they home to special species like fairy shrimp, who spend their entire lives in vernal pool habitats, but the watery mini-ponds provide a venue for salamander and frog species to lay eggs for late-spring hatching. While some vernal pools in western Massachusetts are well known (Sheburne’s High Ledges are home to a local favorite), there are certainly many, many more vernal pools whose locations have yet to be officially determined.
Families can explore vernal pools in their neighborhoods by using the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s GIS Data vernal pool maps, which can be downloaded either as a GIS layer (for tech-y families) or as a datalayer in an online map. While there’s still lots of snow on the ground, the sound of peepers will soon be serenading the hills on spring evenings, and vernal pools will be slowly coming alive with fresh water and lots of fascinating life.
But what about those vernal pools that have yet to be mapped by the state? Families can explore and map local vernal pools all on their own! The process of inspecting, mapping, and tracking present species is quite a project to undertake as a family, but is one that can provide endless opportunities for learning and exploration of the natural world. In order to create a map, families will need to measure the pool’s length and width at various points down either side. This can be a soggy process if the pool is large, but scaling down measurements into a miniature-sized representation of the pool provides an opportunity to practice and apply useful math skills.
In addition to measurement, vernal pool mapping includes finding, identifying, and marking on the map the eggs that are present in the springtime. Eggs, whether salamander or frog, indicate that populations of the species who laid them must be present and, when watched over the course of a few years, the increase or decrease of eggs from that species can mark changes in its local population.
Taking on such a project may seem daunting, but it’s a very meaningful opportunity for citizen science. Families can take on a vernal pool of their very own, becoming responsible for its preservation and tracking changes over the course of each season and each year.