Vernal Pools: An Important Resource for Wildlife

This is a spotted salamander, a species that requires vernal pools to complete its life cycle. Photo by Victor Young.

Vernal pools are home to many wildlife species, including those that breed exclusively in this habitat type – fairy shrimp, wood frogs, and spotted salamanders. “These temporary wetlands are often small and dry in late summer, and therefore are easily overlooked during land-use planning,” explains NH Fish and Game wetlands biologist Michael Marchand.

This is a big concern for several Species of Greatest Conservation Need that are associated with vernal pools, such as Blue-spotted, Jefferson, and marbled salamanders (a state-endangered species).

Some towns have initiated vegetated buffer protection around vernal pools that helps keep pollutants from entering the water and provides shade to keep the water cool, but this varies across the state. At the state level, vernal pools do not have required development setbacks. For these reasons, vernal pools are considered an at-risk habitat in New Hampshire.

To protect important habitats for wildlife, we first have to know where they are. To properly document the occurrence of a vernal pool, it helps to be able to easily identify the habitat. NH Fish and Game and the NH Department of Environmental Services have created tools to do just that. An updated and revised vernal pool reporting form and identification guide are now available for citizen scientists (like you!) to use at wildnh.com/nongame/vernal-pools.html.

Step 1 - Learn to identify vernal pool habitat. Have you heard of a spermatophore? These are small capsules left behind by male salamanders during mating season, and can help document an active vernal pool. In the updated Identification and Documentation of Vernal Pools in New Hampshire manual, you can find colored pictures of spermatophores and many other clues to help you identify vernal pools.


This is one example of what a wooded vernal pool may look like. Notice there are lots of branches that can serve as egg attachment sites for amphibian, and the pool is mostly shaded allowing the water to stay cool. Photo by Peter Bowman.

Step 2 – Print out a copy of the vernal pool documentation form to use in the field when making observations.How many wood frogs can you hear? Are there branches or twigs in the water of the pool? These are some of the questions asked on the new Vernal Pool Documentation form. These are some of the questions asked on the vernal pool documentation form.

Step 3 - Enter your vernal pool data on the NH Wildlife Sightings website at nhwildlifesightings.unh.edu. This is the clearinghouse for entering and storing vernal pool data. To make data entry as easy as possible, the website mimics the documentation form used in the field to write down observations. While you’re entering vernal pool data, you can also enter information about any other wildlife species you observed.

On the NH Wildlife Sightings website, you can report your observations of any reptile or amphibian, vernal pool, or certain mammals, fish, and invertebrates. NHFG photo.
On the NH Wildlife Sightings website, you can report your observations of any reptile or amphibian, vernal pool, or certain mammals, fish, and invertebrates. NHFG photo.

If you are unable to participate online, you can mail your vernal pool documentation form to the NH Fish and Game Department. As soon as the snow starts to melt, grab a good pair of boots and head into the woods to do your part to protect vernal pool species in New Hampshire!

By Loren Valliere, NH Fish & Game Department
Spring 2016 Taking Action for Wildlife Newsletter; originally published in NH Fish and Game’s Wildlines Spring 2016 quarterly newsletter