Editor’s Note: Brooklin author/photographer Richard J. Leighton creates the popular “In the Right Place” posts online about life and nature in Maine. He shares a post the second Thursday of each month in The Ellsworth American.
By Richard Leighton
April is when there are mysterious happenings that are “vernal,” meaning “of the spring.” One of these happenings involves strange activity in the “vernal pools” hidden in our wooded lowlands. These pools, most of which go dry by summer, are places where certain amphibians and crustaceans must breed and grow to fulfill their important roles as foods for other wildlife and sources of wonder and discovery for us.
Maine vernal pools are an indispensable part of the life stages for at least three native amphibians: the wood frog, the spotted salamander (shown here) and the blue-spotted salamander. The pools also are just about the only place where native fresh water crustaceans called fairy shrimp swim, which they do by backstroking upside down.
Some of the amphibious vernal pool creatures, including the spotted salamander, are “pool-specific” creatures. That is, when the temperature gives them the signal that it’s time to mate and lay eggs, thousands embark on a nocturnal march to return to the pool in which they were born.
On such “Big Nights,” these tiny travelers often must scurry relatively long distances and cross roads to get to their family pool. Nature lovers with flashlights often try to give them a hand. But, of course, more profound protection is needed for their homeland destinations.
In Maine, vernal pools that are determined to be of high value to wildlife are regulated as “Significant Vernal Pools” under the State’s Natural Resources Protection Act. Non-trivial disturbances of such pools are prohibited and activities that have the potential to affect the pools may not be undertaken without a permit.