Exploring Michigan’s woods during vernal pool season: Discovering fairy shrimp and other wonders

Michigan forests are home to enchanting woodland ponds that are teeming with fairy shrimp, fingernail clams, and blue-spotted salamanders. These whimsical ponds may seem like something out of a fantasy novel, but they play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Vernal pools, derived from the Latin word for spring, are seasonal wetlands that emerge in wooded areas during this time of year due to the melting snow and spring showers. These unique ecosystems, often referred to as the “coral reefs” of Eastern forests, have a short lifespan, drying up by the summer. However, during their brief existence, they provide vital habitat for a diverse and captivating array of wildlife.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of vernal pools in woodland ecosystems. Previously, these pools were not given much attention and were underprotected. However, experts now understand that vernal pools play a crucial role in recharging underground aquifers, aiding in flood control and erosion prevention. Moreover, these pools facilitate the rapid recycling of nutrients into the soil beneath them. It is fascinating to note that over 550 species have been identified as utilizing or relying on vernal pools, ranging from small crustaceans and rare turtles to majestic black bears and red-shouldered hawks.

In Michigan, the Vernal Pools Partnership is actively involved in the mapping and monitoring of vernal pools. This coalition, consisting of government agencies and nonprofits, is dedicated to vernal pool education, outreach, and research. To assist in their efforts, they have enlisted the help of a group of volunteers called the Vernal Pool Patrol. During late March and April, these dedicated individuals can be found in the field, wearing waders and muck boots, as they collect water samples and document their findings. Their main objective is to identify the “indicator species” that indicate a thriving habitat.

In the world of indicator species, there are some fascinating creatures that play a crucial role in the ecosystem. One such species is the fairy shrimp, delicate crustaceans that elegantly swim upside down using their 11 pairs of rippling legs. These inch-long creatures are known for their ethereal beauty. Additionally, we have the lively wood frogs and two types of salamanders that migrate in large numbers to these pools during warm, rainy nights. Together, these indicator species provide valuable insights into the health and balance of their habitats.

In the woods, there is a unique springtime frog that has a distinct sound resembling that of a tiny chicken. This fascinating creature captures the attention of anyone fortunate enough to come across it.

The Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership not only provides annual volunteer training for the Vernal Pool Patrol but also offers guided and family-friendly explorations of vernal pools throughout the spring. These explorations aim to educate people about the significance of these woodland wonders. It is important to note that due to the sensitivity of these ecosystems, experts strongly advise against exploring them independently.

Mark your calendars for the upcoming events organized by the Vernal Pool Partnership. We have compiled a list of dates for your convenience, so you don’t miss out on any of the exciting activities planned for this year. For more information and to register, visit the official Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership website.

On April 20, you can join a vernal pool exploration activity at Hemlock County Park in West Olive, Michigan.

On April 24th, join us for a Vernal Pool Exploration at Hall’s Lake Natural Area in Remus, Michigan.

On April 27th, I had the opportunity to explore the beauty of McDuffee Creek Nature Preserve in Bitely, Michigan by diving into its vernal pools.

On April 27, there will be a vernal pool monitoring event at Warren Woods State Park in Three Oaks, Michigan.

On April 28, there will be an event for Vernal Pool Monitoring at Dolan Nature Sanctuary in Alto, Michigan.

On May 5th, join us for a Vernal Pool Exploration at Hall’s Lake Natural Area in Remus, Michigan.

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MBS Staff
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