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Vernal ponds: Nature’s nurseries!

Vernal pond at Sand Ridge Nature Center

As the weather warms and the snow melts, a special type of wetland forms in low spots in the woodlands and fields. Called vernal or ephemeral ponds, these temporary pools are small, shallow, and have no inlets or outlets—they are filled only by snowmelt and rain. They will dry out in a few weeks or months; but when they have water, they are teeming with life!

  • Many animals, especially amphibians such as salamanders and frogs, choose to breed and lay their jelly-like eggs in vernal ponds.
  • The amphibian’s young are adapted to survive in the fast-drying environment. They develop from egg to swimming and gill-breathing larvae to air-breathing adults in just a few weeks. Typical amphibians that use these ponds almost exclusively are spotted salamanders and wood frogs.
  • Vernal ponds can provide moist habitat for plants such as bulrushes, ferns, mosses and other moisture-loving plants if there is enough sunlight. Some vernal ponds are so shaded by trees they do not have plant communities, but the decaying fallen tree leaves and branches provide nutrients that support thousands of small animals.
  • Some vernal ponds are home to tiny crustaceans called fairy shrimp swimming in the water, which can go through their whole life cycle in less than three weeks.

As you walk on the winding trails in the Forest Preserves during the spring, be sure to listen carefully for the calls of frogs and marvel at the many ways that life… finds a way!