Daylight savings time is this Sunday, March 9th (not a day too soon) and not too long after that the sound of spring peepers in the early mornings and early evenings signals that spring is here. When that spring thaw arrives if you’re willing to brave a little rain and bracingly cold night air you might catch the first spring sightings of reptile migration to a vernal pool.
“Sound like fun? Yes, it does! So watch for the first rainy night in March or early April when temperatures are above 40 degrees, that’s the signal that it’s time to move.”
Vernal pools are depressions that fill up with rainwater, snow melt or the rising water table but that are dry most of the year. Because they dry up with some regularity, fish are not able to establish populations in them, which means that they make perfect seasonal habitat for reptiles (like the spring peeper and the spotted salamander) and invertebrate species (like the fairy shrimp) to safely reproduce. That rainy night in March (or maybe early April) is a good time to spot these reptiles making their way under cover of darkness to a nearby vernal pool.
Vernal pools exist in every town in Massachusetts. If certified by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (“NHESP”) as containing the biological and physical features of vernal pools, they are protected as wild life habitat under the Wetlands Protection Act. Many communities also protect vernal pools through their local bylaws.
If you would rather explore during daylight hours, you can look for masses of frog and salamander eggs or tad poles in that little pool in the woods that was a dry depression all winter. Whether enjoying an evening hike or a daylight one, to find a vernal pool near you – make sure you have permission to be there – check out the NHESP certified vernal pool maps and potential vernal pool maps, or head to a MassAudubon sanctuary, many of which are home to vernal pools. I for one, can’t wait for spring!