Marble Salamander

Amazing Animals that Use Vernal Pools

Photo © Kerry Wixted

For some species, known collectively as obligate species, Vernal Pools are the only habitat where reproduction occurs. Any evidence of active breeding by any one of these species confirms that a body of water is a vernal pool. This distinction plays a big role in conservation efforts and environmental legislation. Obligate species will vary by state or region but usually include salamanders, frogs and some crustaceans.

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)

Photo © Dave Huth

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Photo © Dave Huth

Obligate amphibian species, like mole salamanders and Wood frogs, live as terrestrial adults then travel to vernal pools to lay their eggs shortly after the first spring rain. An estimated 85% of obligate amphibians return each year to breed in the same pond where they were born, 1 bypassing other suitable pools and navigating man-made obstacles like roads, construction sites, and golf courses.


Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) eggs

Photo © JohnClare

Once they reach the pools they deposit gelatinous clusters of eggs under the water’s surface. After the eggs hatch, larvae must grow quickly, reach maturity, and leave the pool before before it dries up for the remainder of the year.

Fish and Wildlife Research

Tiger salamander larva (A. tigrinum) with gills, in a vernal pool.

Photo © FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

Those that do not are easy food for birds and other predators, becoming more and more exposed as the water area disappears.

Eubranchipus vernalis male Jack Ray

Fairy shrimp (Eubranchipus vernalis)

Photo © Jack Ray

Several crustaceans, like fairy shrimp and clam shrimp, are obligate species. These shrimp lay eggs that sink to the bottom of the pool and dry out in the summer, freeze in the winter and hatch when the water returns in the spring, completing the cycle again 2.

Kristin Shoemaker

A Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) sunbathes in a Vernal Pool.

Photo © Kristin Shoemaker

Other species, which take advantage of the lush environment of vernal pools but can also use different types of breeding and foraging habitats, are called facultative species.

Facultative species may include:

  • Invertebrates like dragonfly, damselfly and caddisfly larvae. These are sensitive species and are an indicator of healthy aquatic environments 3.
  • Birds, like herons, geese and ducks, that that feed on invertebrates and high-protein vegetation in and around vernal pools 4.
  • Reptiles, like turtles and snakes, that prey on crustaceans and other invertebrates.
  • Mammals like deer, raccoon, and mice that use vernal pools for drinking water, bathing and feeding on plants, amphibians and crustaceans.
David A. Hofmann

Mimulus tricolor blooming as its vernal pool dries.

Photo © David A. Hofmann

Vernal pools also support some unique flowering plants. Spring ephemerals are plants that make a brief above ground appearance when the weather begins to warm. Like the pools that spur them, they are short lived. After blooming and setting seed they lose their foliage storing gained energy in their roots to wait for the next year.

Pacific Southwest Region USFWS (2)

Navarretia fossalis, a federally threatened plant, occurs with Vernal Pools

Photo © Pacific Southwest Region USFWS

Other articles in this series include:
Vernal Pools Connect Otherwise Isolated Habitats
Creating Vernal Pools

Add a Vernal Pool to Your Map

Those lucky enough to have large properties may find they include vernal pools. If you aren’t sure, make a plan to walk your property during your next wet season. For many this will be Spring, but for others in more moderate climates (like on the West Coast), this might be during a winter rainy season.

Use the water habitat type to map vernal pools ().

Map vernal pool PM

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Set the characteristics for this object

Once you’ve added the pool to your map make sure to set the characteristics. Click on the object, and open the infowindow to access these settings under “characteristics.”
Water Open

Photo ©

First set “running water” to “standing” water.

Standing Water

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

2nd, set seasonality to “seasonal.”

Seasonal Water

Photo ©

Don’t have a map yet? Start One Now

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