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Fact Sheet: Vernal Pools

Ohio Environmental Council, February 26, 2013

“Vernal pools” are wetlands that fill up annually but typically dry out during part of the year.

These usually small but very dynamic, wetlands fill with water, blossom with life and host a cacophony of sounds and a plethora of life forms every spring, only to disappear into the forest floor every autumn.

Vernal pools are miniature, fascinatingly complex and fragile worlds of activity, which play out their drama in a few months every year.

Vernal pools can vary greatly in size and shape. In fact, the time of filling, surrounding habitat, and water source can vary per pool but they all share two common characteristics: they do not permanently hold water and they have no fish.

Vernal pools are special!  They:

  • improve water quality
  • are an excellent educational tool
  • serve as a bell weather wetland
  • hold flood waters
  • provide habitat to hundreds of species, including  migratory birds
  • offer the only home for fairy shrimp

Vernal pools are threatened

The major threat to vernal pools is from developers who unknowingly destroy them. Other threats include: invasive species, pollution from runoff, mosquito control, destruction of surrounding habitat, and lack of community interest in or knowledge of the pool.

You can help!

By monitoring and documenting these pools, they can be appreciated and preserved.

Support local efforts to find and monitor vernal pools.

Raise community awareness by using the local newspaper and talking with your neighbors.

Join the Ohio Vernal Pools Partnership listserv and keep up-to-date with changes in legislation and the latest technologies in monitoring.

For more information on vernal pool monitoring or to learn the latest news please visit the Ohio Vernal Pool Partnership website.

Vernal pool monitoring

Animals that call vernal pools home include:

Fairy shrimp — can only be found in vernal pools!

Frogs and toads

  •   bullfrog
  •   green frog
  •   northern leopard frog
  •   wood frog
  •   western chorus frog
  •   spring peeper 
  •   gray tree frog
  •   Blanchard’s cricket frog


  •   eastern red-spotted newt
  •   spotted salamander
  •   tiger salamander
  •   smallmouth salamander
  •   marbled salamander
  •   Jefferson salamander
  •   four-toed salamander
  •   hybrids  

Vegetation you may find includes:

  • Buttonbush
  • Sedges
  • Swamp buttercups
  • Manna grass
  • Swamp rose
  • Skunk cabbage
  • Duckweed
  • Trees
    •   American elm
    •   pin oak
    •   swamp white oak
    •   silver maple
    •   red maple
    •   yellow birch

Materials Checklist

  •  clipboard
  •  compass
  •  notebook
  •  pencil
  •  camera
  •  maps
  •  tape recorder
  •  field guides
  •  binoculars
  •  measuring tape
  •  wading boots
  •  cell phone
  •  GPS unit
  •  flashlight
  •  dip net
  •  observation trays
  •  magnifying glass
  •  water-testing kits

Vernal pools have six distinct phases:

  1. dry
  2. newly flooded
  3. early spring
  4. mid spring
  5. late spring/summer
  6. drying

Always put things back the way you find them and NEVER take any animals from the vernal pool.