Vernal Pools: A Wetland Wonderland

Marquette’s Migration and the Blue-Spotted Salamander Surveys

My friends and I carefully tip-toed on the closed, wet road of Peter White Drive in Presque Isle Park in Marquette, Michigan on a rainy spring night. The air was crisp, filled with bellows of cheerful people of the Marquette community. The trees of Presque Isle Park surrounded the paved road, allowing the small creatures who travel over the pavement a sense of safety and peace when they make it to the other side.  

A blue-spotted salamander from Presque Isle Park in Marquette, MI

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to conduct blue-spotted salamander surveys in Marquette. These adorable, tiny amphibians are painted with what looks like flecks of blue sky scattered along their dark bodies. Blue-spotted salamanders are shy creatures that awake to the rising moon. They inhabit forested areas and are most commonly found at vernal pools in spring. Unlike other salamanders, the blue-spotted salamanders do not lay eggs in clumps, but rather with individual eggs flickered amongst leaves and sticks on the bottom of a vernal pool.

Two blue-spotted salamanders being observed under a lamp

The road closure in Presque Isle Park begins at the end of March and continues until the end of April each year, allowing amphibians to safely cross the street. Rainy weather, and 35-45 degree temperatures provide further inspiration for several salamanders, toads, and frogs to continue their travels to the vernal pools. One perfect, rainy night, my good friends and I counted 112 blue-spotted salamanders and two wood frogs!

A wood frog found with the blue-spotted salamanders, together on their vernal pool expedition!

This migration makes local news and is a huge opportunity to participate in citizen science! Thanks to an evening, annual road closure in Presque Isle Park, the blue-spotted salamanders can safely travel from their burrows to vernal pools, where they lay their eggs in the same pool they were born in. If you’re looking for an evening adventure, I highly recommend joining Marquette’s blue-spotted salamander surveys. Just watch your step!

Salamanders and Vernal Pools Throughout Michigan

Marquette is a long drive from southeast Michigan. Fortunately, Oakland Township has plenty of vernal pools bursting with life. You can travel just 10 minutes from home to witness these wondrous habitats found in our parks.

A vernal pool found at Charles Ilsley Park

Vernal pools are temporary ponds that are formed by the melting of winter snow or early spring rains. They are a true sign of spring! Vernal pools- or vernal ponds (“vernal” meaning spring) – typically dry out by the end of the summer, but flow with biodiversity while they are present! These pools are temporary nurseries for amphibious offspring, made possible by the lack of predatory fish. While vernal pools thrive in the early spring, they can still be found throughout the parks in June. If you come across one, it is likely in its beginning stages of drying out. The vernal pools at this time of year, depending on their size, may have significantly less water in them compared to spring.

The larval stage of the salamander with gills and tail fins. In June the salamander eggs have hatched and look like this larva.

Vernal pools can be found throughout Oakland Township’s parks. Various species from frogs, fairy shrimp, and salamanders inhabit these ephemeral ponds! On a lovely hike through Bear Creek Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, or Cranberry Lake Park, you just might hear the bullfrog sing or see a peaceful wood duck floating on a vernal pool.

Eastern redback salamander at Blue Heron Environmental Area. Photo by Camryn.
Gray tree frog at Watershed Ridge Park.

Why are Vernal Pools Important?

Vernal pools are important for forest ecosystem health. Not only are they a nursery for amphibians, they are a temporary source of food and water for numerous species such as raccoons, ducks, and egrets. They are often called the “Coral Reefs of Northeastern Forests” for their bursts of biodiversity, several species can be found here if you look a little closer into the water.

If you would like to get up close and personal with vernal pools, grab your bug spray and muck boots for Michigan’s Vernal Pool Patrol! This program allows community members to participate in community science to collect information on identifying, mapping, and monitoring vernal pools statewide. The Michigan Vernal Pool Database, where this information is submitted, can be used to guide management decisions on vernal pool conservation. After attending some training (held in early spring each year), you will be ready to contribute to the Michigan Vernal Pool Database! If this is something that interests you, follow this link to the Michigan Vernal Pool Patrol website.

Alyssa Radzwion from Oakland Township Parks and Ian Ableson of Six Rivers Conservancy observing tiny life in a vernal pool at Bear Creek Nature Park in 2019.

If you ever see a vernal pool, consider taking a moment to enjoy its beauty and small wetland critters. Vernal pools can teach us to enjoy the little things in life, and appreciate them while they are still here with us. Yes, life gets busy, we live in a world that requires us to always be on the move. But by living this way, we just might forget about the little things. Tell your friends and family you love them, take your dog out for a walk, buy that stranger in the coffee shop their latte. All it takes are the little things to make someone’s day.

One thought on “Vernal Pools: A Wetland Wonderland

  1. Hello Cassie,
    I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for your recent post on Vernal Ponds. I learned so much and I really enjoyed reading your article. The way you write made me feel like I was right there with you on Presque Isle! Reading about the blue – spotted salamanders migration path reminded me of something I witnessed in a recent trip to Cuba. Every spring millions of red crabs make a similar journey from the forest to the ocean. It is quite a sight to see. Keep up the great work!
    😊

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