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Vernal Ponds and the Warbling Wood Frog

Looks like Old Man Winter is taunting us with a chill, the meanie.

While this cold snap brings back unwelcome memories of winter’s profuse snowfall, it will thankfully be short-lived allowing spring to continue its warm-up.

While I am THRILLED that snow from January through March has melted, what has become of all that H2O? Much and more of the snowmelt has gone into our rivers, lakes, and streams as runoff, traveling far from its original home. However, some of this surface runoff inundates divots in the forest floor known as vernal pool basins.

While these unique waterforms are only temporary, they amazingly provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. Ephemeral Pools, as they’re also known, live up to their namesake and last only briefly. Consequently, fish are unable to inhabit their waters, allowing the safe development of natal insect and amphibian species unable to withstand predation or competition by fish.

One amphibian that takes advantage of these safe havens is the Wood Frog, who welcomes spring with its quacking mating call (and you thought it was a duck shebang!).

After hibernating the winter away (literally frozen), adult wood frogs emerge in early spring and migrate to nearby vernal ponds. This is where these webbed-warblers begin chanting their duck-like song to attract females. After pairing off, female frogs deposit some 1,000 eggs to the submerged substrate (downed branches and vegetation) of the ponds.

Seeing that these frogs mate in the same area, the resulting eggs are adjacent to one another, creating a large "egg matt" on the surface of the water. Luckily for these nanofrogs, this matt will soon grow algae, disguising it as pond slime. These lucky eggs eventually hatch into small brownish-black tadpoles, ultimately becoming adult frogs in just 2 months!

So the next time you’re out on the trail and hear this telltale quacking, you’ll know it’s the sound of thousands upon thousands of froglets being expelled and submerged in a vernal pond nearby. Ah the magic of nature.

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