HCT Volunteers Discover Vernal Pools

Spotted salamander by Peter Trull

Thanks to HCT volunteers and AmeriCorps, 35 vernal pools have been discovered and certified across Harwich. Before the volunteer discoveries, only 5 vernal pools were certified in town. The total number of certified pools is now 40, an eight-fold increase in three years!

Vernal pools are unique wildlife habitats best known for the amphibians and invertebrate animals that depend on them to breed. Also known as ephemeral pools, vernal pools typically fill with water in the autumn or winter due to rising ground water as well as rainfall. Water remains through the spring into early summer but often dries completely by the middle or end of summer each year, or at least every few years. Occasional drying prevents fish from establishing permanent populations, which is critical for several amphibian and invertebrate species whose eggs would otherwise be eaten by fish.

Spotted salamander egg mass

Other than breeding on a rainy spring night and occasional nocturnal feeding, spotted salamanders typically spend the rest of the year burrowed in the surrounding upland, sometimes as far as a half-mile from a vernal pool. Though the timing of spotted salamander migration is challenging to predict, the first rainy spring night above forty degrees typically encourages egg-laying in vernal pools.

When certified, these fragile habitats are better protected because of HCT volunteers.