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Ohio’s Hidden Wonders

A Guide to the Animals & Plants of Vernal Pools

Acknowledgements This guide is made possible by funds from the Clifford and Mary Ozias Conservation and Forestry, Benua Foundation of Field of Interest, and the Harry E. and Corinne Babbert Funds of the Columbus Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation.

Jim McCormac

The guide was created by David R. Celebrezze, Director of Air & Water Special Projects, Ohio Environmental Council, with written contributions from:

Four-toed salamander

Cover: Wood frog by Mick Micacchion. Back cover: Blanding’s turtle by L. Lee Cerny. Š Copyright 2010 - 2012 Ohio Environmental Council ISBN #978-0-615-45965-3

In memory of Steve Barry, Wetland Habitat Coordinator, Ohio Department of Natural Resources 2

Carrie Elvey, The Wilderness Center Brian Gara, Ohio EPA Bob Glotzhober and the Ohio Odonata Society John Katko, Friends of Wetlands Kurt Keljo Greg Lipps Jim McCormac, Ohio DNR Mick Micacchion, Ohio EPA Gary Popotnik, The Wilderness Center David Reutter, Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District Eileen Sawyer Ray Stewart, Friends of Wetlands Kendra Wecker, Ohio DNR Special thanks to Kent Bekker, L. Lee Cerny, Andrea Haslage, Leo Kenney, Rick Gardner, Nina Harfmann, William Hull, Ann Johnson, MAD Scientist & Associates, Wendell Patton, Allison Thomas, and Alan Tomko. Design and editing by Jennifer Doron. Printed by Advance Graphics, Columbus, Ohio.

Table of Contents Introduction 2 Frogs & Toads


Salamanders 27 Snakes 45 Dragonflies & Damselflies


Turtles 59 Spiders 65 Macroinvertebrates 71 Plants 91 Index & Resources


References 120 Websites of Interest


Glossary 123

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. John Muir 3

Dick Todd Photography


A weed is no more than a flower in disguise. James Russell Lowell




The Ohio Environmental Council is Ohio’s leading advocate for fresh air, clean water, and sustainable land use. Our mission is to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home.

In this field guide, we use two measurements of note: the Coefficient of Conservatism and the Floristic Quality Assessment Index.

Using legislative initiatives, legal action, scientific principles, and statewide partnerships, we secure a healthier environment for Ohio’s families and communities. For more than 40 years, the OEC has held a widely respected history of innovation, pragmatism, and success. See page 128 for more information about the Ohio Environmental Council and how you can become a member. HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE While there are plenty of general field guides available, none are specific to Ohio’s vernal pools. With the help of partner organizations across the state, the Ohio Environmental Council was able to produce this extensive guide for both the novice and veteran interested in the wonders of Ohio’s vernal pools.

The Coefficient of Conservatism (C of C) scores range from 1 to 10 and increase with a species’ sensitivity to habitat disturbances and as their niche requirements become more specific. The C of C scores were assigned by a group of Ohio amphibian experts: Mick Micacchion, Robert Davic, Jeffrey Davis, Greg Lipps and Ralph Pfingsten. The Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI) is a scientific methodology that can be used to evaluate the quality of a habitat based on the native plants that are present. Each species is assigned a score (coefficient) that indicates its degree of specificity to particular habitats. The Coefficient of Conservatism scores were developed by Barbara Andreas, John Mack, and Jim McCormac.

SCIENTIFIC NAMES The scientific names are in parentheses. All are Genus then species unless otherwise noted. The major taxonomic levels are Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. MAPS The maps provided for the sections on Frogs & Toads and Salamanders display the area (in green) where these animals are most likely to be found. For the frogs on pages 12 and 13, the gray treefrog can be found in the green area above the black line; the Cope’s gray treefrog can be found in the green area below the black line. All maps were provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Wildlife. OHIO’S VERNAL POOLS Discover the hidden wonders of Ohio’s vernal pools! When winter loosens its icy

grip, spring rains and snowmelt create these seasonal wetlands, and with them, a lush world that exists for only a few months each year. Thousands of different organisms comprise the mosaic web of life in a vernal pool. A drop of rain a day too late or a few grams of weight can mean the difference between life and death for some of the plants and animals in vernal pools. Maybe you have experienced a vernal pool on a walk or hike through the woods. The thousands of creatures hosted by these special places often rely on vernal pools for their very existence. When gazing into a vernal pool in late winter or early spring, you may notice fairy shrimp. This creature, a mere 1.5 inches long, appears seemingly from nowhere and then disappears into the darkness. If you are lucky, you may see a special class of salamanders that need vernal pools to sustain their life cycle. Most Ohioans may not realize they live within a few miles of these inhabitants: blue-spotted, Jefferson, marbled, small-mouthed, spotted, tiger, and unisexual salamanders.

By summer’s end, these vernal pools will vanish into the forest floor–a process that has occurred for thousands of years. However, this dormant habitat will once again jump to life in early spring to capture your imagination! This field guide to vernal pools will help you identify the animals and plants that call vernal pools home. Remember: be safe, keep good records, and enjoy exploring! THREATS TO THEIR PROTECTION The state of Ohio is a water-rich state that has more than 60,000 miles of streams and 482,800 acres of wetlands. The ancient advancement and retreat of glaciers shaped much of Ohio’s landscape and allowed thousands of vernal pools to come into existence. Whether in the county of Athens, Franklin, Hamilton, Holmes, or Paulding, vernal pools provide a myriad of functions and benefits. Vernal pools play a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Many watershed groups and nature centers hold public vernal pool monitoring tours, which can be found across the state in late winter and early spring.


WEBSITES OF INTEREST See Page 122 for additional websites.


During the past decade, interest in vernal pools has increased dramatically. The more we learn about vernal pools, the greater motivation we have to explore and protect them.

In Ohio, the draining and filling of wetlands, including vernal pools, must be approved by the Ohio EPA and, in some cases, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In fact, in June 2010, the state of Ohio adopted a vernal pool indicator species–the spotted salamander–as the state amphibian.

If the state approves proposed impacts to wetlands, they issue a 401 Water Quality Certification or an isolated wetland permit. If you see a wetland being impacted, you can contact your local watershed group or the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water to determine if a permit was granted.

In recent years, vernal pools across the state have been destroyed at a rapid rate, and the destruction is ongoing. Land owners may destroy vernal pools because they don’t know they are there or don’t care to preserve them. One study by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that more than 40% of the wetlands in Franklin County listed in state and federal wetland inventories have been destroyed with many having no record of a permit being issued. Only a few hundred years ago, Ohio claimed five million acres of wetlands. Today, less than 10% remain. Current protection efforts work to document and monitor vernal pools.

For more information on what you can do to protect wetlands from destruction, contact the Ohio Environmental Council or a local environmental/conservation group. In addition to being destroyed for housing developments, strip malls, and parking lots, vernal pools may be degraded by automotive and pesticide run-off. Furthermore, the buffer area around a vernal pool is critical to its success. Landscape alterations, such as creating ditches, can reduce or destroy certain vernal pool species or even the pool itself.

WHAT IS A VERNAL POOL? There is much debate about what constitutes a vernal pool. For purposes of this publication, we will define vernal pools as wetlands that fill annually from precipitation, run-off, and rising groundwater. They dry out each year or every other year and do not house a population of predatory fish (e.g., bluegill, largemouth bass). Certain species indicate that a vernal pool is present including fairy shrimp, wood frogs, and mole salamanders (spotted, Jefferson, marbled, spotted, small-mouthed, tiger, and unisexual). Vernal pools also are shallow, typically having a depth of less than three feet. They have no continuous surface water connection with a permanent body of water. Vernal pools provide benefits both to our watershed and to our communities. They slow floodwaters, filter sediment, replenish ground water, provide habitat to thousands of species (“nature’s nurseries”), provide educational and recreational opportunities, increase property values, store carbon, and filter out pollutants from waterways.

Vernal pools greatly contribute to Ohio’s biodiversity. Close inspection reveals a complex world with thousands of creatures to capture your imagination. One week, the pool may be filled with fairy shrimp. The next, it may be filled with cigar-tub or log-cabin caddisfly larvae. They are also rich environments for mosquito predators. In one night, amphibian larvae and some macroinvertebrates can eat hundreds of mosquito larvae and adults. MONITORING & PERMISSION You can take steps to protect and preserve vernal pools in your community. If you find a potential vernal pool, contact the land owner to seek permission to monitor the pool. To find out who owns the land, visit the county auditor’s website. Once you have permission to monitor the vernal pool, plan your route during the day. At night, bring waders, pencil/pen, monitoring forms, cell phone, dip net, flashlight, a Frog & Toad Call CD (see inside of back cover), hat, and compass.

For a full list of items, see the OEC’s vernal pool fact sheet and monitoring form at When monitoring a vernal pool, never remove anything from it. These are special ecosystems and all creatures play a role in the web of life. Also, be careful where you step so you do not disturb egg masses or animals. You can monitor the pool in a few locations. Try to minimize your impact by going and coming from the same path. Once you arrive at the pool, turn off your flashlight and listen for a few minutes to the different frog and toad calls. Turn your head to hear if there are different calls. Next, turn on your flashlight and write down the frogs you heard and how many (fewer than ten, dozens, hundreds?). To search for salamanders, you can look for their spermatophores (see Salamander section). Spotted salamanders usually migrate to the pool on the first warm, rainy spring night (about 45 degrees F) and this can be a good time to view them. 5

If you pick up a salamander, make sure your hands are wet, because they secrete a mucus-like slime to protect their skin. At night, many macroinvertebrates are drawn to light. Bend down and shine your light into the water. Wait a few minutes and watch as many creatures come swimming near the surface: fairy shrimp, predaceous diving beetles, scavenger beetles, mosquito larvae, whirligig beetles, phantom midges, etc. Make a note of what creatures you see and about how many there are. Before leaving the vernal pool site, make a note of the buffer areas, temperature, wind, and precipitation. For in-depth instructions, download the OEC’s vernal pool monitoring forms at You can also contact a local watershed group, nature center, or state-wide environmental group to determine if they are monitoring vernal pools in your area.


RESTORATION & ENHANCEMENT Ohio has lost 90% of its original wetlands and a large percentage of these have been vernal pools. This has had a disastrous effect on vernal pool obligates (organisms that can only survive in vernal pools), especially amphibians. It is to the point where, in most urban areas, sensitive amphibian species such as wood frogs, and eastern tiger, Jefferson, and spotted salamanders no longer exist. Even many moderate to tolerant pond breeding amphibian species have become rare in urban areas. Additionally, the wood frog has been eliminated from much of rural western Ohio. Conversion of the land for agricultural practices before the turn of the 20th century eliminated them and they have been unable to return on their own. There is great need to re-establish vernal pool habitats in Ohio to maintain our valuable biodiversity. Fortunately there are many good candidate sites for restoration activities.

In order to successfully restore vernal pools, we must first understand the habitat needs of the amphibians that utilize them and then work those needs into the plans.

When restoring vernal pools, it is important to find areas that were formerly pools and are located close to (generally within 200 meters) suitable forested upland habitat.

Of ultimate importance is understanding that most vernal pool species cannot travel far to reach breeding pools. Most salamander and many frog species will not travel more than 100 to 200 meters from their terrestrial habitats to find suitable pools.

These conditions are often present in Ohio where old fields exist next to intact woodlots. The nearby forested area must have existing vernal pools and healthy amphibian communities that are utilizing the habitat.

Even the most far-ranging species, such as wood frogs and eastern tiger salamanders, are not able to travel more than about a kilometer to reach a breeding pool. Most vernal pool amphibians have adapted to living in forested areas and need a large part of their terrestrial habitat to be dominated by trees and shrubs. This was the situation in much of Ohio prior to European settlement.

Vernal pools can then be restored in the adjacent old fields on the existing hydric soil areas (indicating where wetlands once existed). The other open areas can be actively reforested to provide connection between all the habitats in the long run. In this way the new pools can be populated by the existing amphibian species present as they only have to venture within their normal migration distance to reach the new pools.

SEASONS OF A VERNAL POOL The photos on pages 6 & 7 depict the same vernal pool in Ohio during the four seasons.

All four photos by David R. Celebrezze.


When building new vernal pools it is important to keep landscape disturbance to a minimum. The most successful projects are those that are true restorations and rely on merely bringing the original hydrology back to reclaim a wetland. Oftentimes this can be achieved by simply destroying and back filling drainage tiles or by plugging or filling ditches. At times it may be necessary to construct small berms or perform minor excavations. It is important to mimic the structure of existing vernal pools in the adjacent forests. Pools should have gentle slopes, depths of 18 to 24 inches, with perhaps a few deeper areas, and should hold water only seasonally. The majority of natural vernal pools are small, most are less than 0.5 acre in size, and others are much smaller. These same sizes should be reflected in the restored pools and are likely to correspond to the footprints of the hydric soil areas in the fields. Vernal pools do not need much of a watershed and can have their hydrologic needs supplied by rainfall alone. 8

Stream inputs should be avoided as these transport predatory fish populations for which pond breeding amphibian species have no natural defenses. Once the pools are established they should be vegetated with native vernal pool plant species (see Plants section). The adjacent areas in the fields should be seeded and planted with a mix of native species that, over time, will provide a high-quality, multi-canopied forest. Herbaceous plants can be seeded; the trees and shrubs should be planted at high densities and can be augmented with mast seeding. The end result should be a connected complex of vernal pools and forested habitat, some old and some new. In this way we can begin to replace some of the remarkable biodiversity that has been lost through development practices. Vernal pool species and the citizens of Ohio will be the beneficiaries.

Frogs & Toads The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.

Andrea Haslage


Fowler’s toad Frogs & Toads



Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Amphibia Order: Anura

Family: Hylidae Wood Frog Family: Ranidae American Toad

Fowler’s Toad

Family: Bufonidae

Family: Bufonidae

Blanchard’s Cricket Frog

Gray Treefrog

Family: Hylidae

Family: Hylidae


Cope’s Gray Treefrog

Family: Ranidae

Family: Hylidae

Pickerel Frog

Mountain Chorus Frog

Family: Ranidae

Family: Hylidae Northern Leopard Frog Family: Ranidae Spring Peeper Family: Hylidae 10

Western Chorus Frog

Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri)

These toads tend to be lighter in color and often have a greenish tint. Their bellies are white without any black mottling, except for a single dark spot in the center of their chest. Each large, dark spot on their back contains three or more warts, unlike the one or two spots on the American toad. Additionally, the cranial crests touch the parotoid glands. American toads have a dark stripe while Fowler’s toads have a light mid-dorsal stripe. Females tend to be larger than males, who also have dark throats. Adults can live to five years. Fowler’s toads are found throughout Ohio except for the inland portion of the extreme Northeast. They are terrestrial toads that seem to prefer more sandy habitats then American toads. Open areas along waterways are preferred. Photographic vouchers should include dorsal views showing dark spots and warts on the back,

cranial crests, and parotoid glands. A ventral view should show the dark spot on the chest. REPRODUCTION Breeding season is early May through mid-July, later than American toads, who breed March to early June. Males advertise from shallow water or tufts of vegetation with a three to four second “wa-a-ah” song (similar to a bleating sheep). Eggs are laid in two long strands. Differentiating egg mass of these two species can be difficult. Two characteristics may help: in each strand the eggs may be paired (single in American toad) and eggs not divided into “cells” in each strand (as they are in American toad). LARVAE Eggs hatch in 2 to 3 days and the black tadpoles feed on algae and detritus. Tadpoles often school with their siblings. Tadpoles develop quickly and metamorphose at four to five weeks. Fowler’s toads are active April through October. They overwinter in hibernacula in sandy soil below frost line.

Andrea Haslage

The Fowler’s toad belongs to the family Bufonidae, or true toads, of which there are only two species in Ohio. At first glance, it appears similar to the American toad, but there are several differences.

Quick Look Size: 2-3 inches (5.1-7.6 cm). Habitat: Open areas along waterways. Distinguishing Feature: Cranial crests touch the parotoid glands; light mid-dorsal stripe. C of C: 4. 11

Gray Treefrog / Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor / Hyla chrysoscelis)

These two species are identical in appearance and can only be distinguished by counting chromosomes (gray treefrogs have four sets of chromosomes; Cope’s gray treefrogs have the normal two sets of chromosomes), by measuring red blood cells or by vocalizations.

Quick Look Size: 1.25-2 inches (3.2–5.0 cm). Habitat: Woody vegetation, especially shrubs, near breeding pools. Distinguishing Feature: Color varies, as it can change from gray to green to dark brown to match its background, has large toe discs, and inside of thighs are bright yellow. C of C: 4. 12

As a result of the extra chromosomes the red blood cells of the Gray treefrog will be larger. In some circumstances, males may be distinguished by trill rates of advertisement calls. Because of these similarities, the two species will be discussed together here. ADULTS Gray treefrogs are the largest of Ohio’s treefrogs, measuring 1.25 to 2 inches. They tend to be rather plump and have grainy skin. These treefrogs can change color from gray to green to dark brown. The insides of the hind legs are bright yellow or orange. There is a light spot outlined in black below the eye. Adults also have an irregular pattern of black on their backs; this may be absent in juveniles. The belly is usually a dirty white. Large toe discs can

be found on front and back feet. Males may be distinguished by their dark gray throats. Gray treefrogs have been found in all 88 Ohio counties. (Cope’s treefrogs are limited to the southern third of the state. See line on map.) They are adaptable and are often found near areas of human habitation. Gray treefrogs are freeze-tolerant; they are active from April to October. They feed on small invertebrates such as ants, beetles, and spiders, and are prey for birds, snakes, and small mammals. Their best defense is exceptional camouflage– they can blend in with bark or lichen-covered vegetation. When spotted by predators, they leap, exposing their bright yellow thigh patches. When they land, the yellow disappears into the fold of their legs, disrupting predator search patterns. REPRODUCTION Gray treefrogs begin chorusing in late April to early May and continue calling while migrating to breeding sites.

Females lay up to 1,500 eggs that float in clusters of 30 to 40 attached to vegetation.

Carrie Elvey

Eggs hatch within a few days and metamorphosis occurs six to nine weeks later. Tadpoles can be readily identified by the large, black-flecked tail that reaches nearly to the head. When under stress from predators, the tail turns bright red or orange. This coloration provides a distraction to predators. Studies have found that dragonfly nymphs are more likely to attack the bright red tail than the head of these tadpoles.



Gray treefrog froglet

Treefrog tadpole

Tom Schneider

The tiny, newly emerged froglets are bright, almost iridescent green, and stay in the vegetation near their ponds after metamorphosis.

Carrie Elvey

This is the only Ohio tadpole with red to orange coloration on the tail and, when present, makes their identification easy. Tadpole behavior also changes in the presence of predators.

Adult 13

Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachyphona) ADULTS


Chorus frogs, both the mountain and western species, are small treefrogs similar in size to cricket frogs, less than 3.5 cm in length, with little webbing between the toes.

Mountain chorus frog

Quick Look Size: 1-1.3 inches (2.5–3.5 cm). Habitat: Woodland hills, forested valleys. Distinguishing Feature: Dark triangle between eyes; dark markings on back that resemble reverse parentheses. C of C: 7.


The mountain chorus frog is a terrestrial species often found some distance from water on wooded hills and in forested valleys in unglaciated southeastern Ohio. Pseudacris is derived from the Greek words “pseudes” meaning “false” and “akris” meaning “locust.” The species name brachyphona is derived from the Greek words “brachys,” which means “short” and “phone,” which means “voice.” This refers to the short call of this frog. The mountain chorus frog is light to dark brown in ground color and has a dark triangle between the eyes. A dark stripe extends back from the snout through the eye and along the side nearly to the back legs.

This small frog ranges from 1.0 to 1.33 inches in length and can be distinguished by two inward bending stripes on the back, a white line on the upper lip, and a dark triangle between the eyes. Two pairs of curved lines on its back form a set of reverse parentheses. A dark line goes through the eye and there is a conspicuous white line above the lip. The mountain chorus frog’s call resembles the sound made by rubbing one’s finger over the teeth of a hard plastic comb, but is more nasal and high-pitched than the western chorus frog’s call. This species occurs in Ohio only in the southeastern hill country in woodlands, often some distance from water. They are usually inconspicuous, but in late spring they give themselves away as they call from their breeding pools, springs, brooks, or just about any other shallow body of water. These frogs feed on various invertebrates.


The breeding season extends from mid-March through late May in Ohio. Loose egg masses of 10 to 60 eggs are attached to branches or other vegetation below the surface in pools or slow flowing streams. Females may lay 900 to 1,200 eggs, each one 0.16 cm in diameter when laid, but reaching 0.7 cm when the protective layers are fully swollen.

Larval development is rapid and only 52 to 65 days are required for development from the egg to completion of metamorphosis. Eggs hatch in as little as three to five days into small larvae 0.4 to 0.5 cm long. Jim McCormac


Males often call in pairs, one with a higher pitch than the other, making the sound of a squeaky wheel that can be paraphrased as “reek-rake, reek-rake.�

So many voices, so many languages, beyond human tongues, are never listened to. David M. Carroll 15

Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens / (Lithobates (Rana) pipiens)

Quick Look Size: 2-3 inches (5.0-7.5 cm). Habitat: Around lakes, wet meadows, and rivers. Distinguishing Feature: Slim body and leopard-like round dark spots outlined with pale yellow and white; no bright yellow coloration on inside of thighs. C of C: 4.


Though still widespread, the northern leopard frog is experiencing a drop in numbers in the northeast Ohio part of its range, which is surprising since they are a fairly hardy, common, and widespread species. These declines are due to a variety of factors, including harvesting to be used as bait, increased use of pesticides (including lawn pesticides), and loss of habitat due to construction and agriculture (loss of both wetland and field habitat). There are suspected global factors that may be adversely affecting amphibians and this species. Possible candidates for such influences are climatic and atmospheric changes, such as increased UV-B radiation, disease, and widespread pollution such as acid rain. ADULTS Northern leopard frogs are easily recognized by their slim bodies and leopard-like round dark spots outlined with pale yellow and white. These spots are located within two distinct yellow ridges extending along each side of the back. The background coloring can vary from shades of greens to grays to browns. Another identifying feature is that the inside surface of

the thigh is immaculate white, not yellow as with its close relative, the pickerel frog. Other common names for this frog are meadow frog and grass frog. This medium-sized frog is 2 to 3 inches long (5 to 7.5 cm). It feeds on non-aquatic insects, worms, and other frogs. The females are usually larger than the males. Adult frogs can live out of water and breathe through lungs (although they also obtain oxygen through their moist, thin skin). Sexual maturity is achieved two to three years from the egg stage, and the expected longevity is about four years. The habitat of the adult frog is the narrow zone between water and grassland. Here they forage for insects at night, living almost exclusively on non-aquatic insects, worms, and other frogs. Northern leopard frogs have innumerable predators. Fish, large salamanders, snakes, raccoons, mink, skunks, bullfrogs, herons, and hawks all prey upon frogs. One adaptation to this predation is that frogs are powerful swimmers and jumpers, leaping five to six feet in a zig-zag pattern to avoid capture.

During the mid-March or early April breeding season, males develop paired vocal sacs and stout forearms with swollen thumb bases that they use to hang on to the female. The northern leopard frog is often difficult to hear because it does not call in large groups as do other frog species. Individuals call from the edge of the water. Each male maintains a large distance between himself and his neighbors. His song sounds like a long, guttural snore usually followed by a series of short grunts or clucks. Sometimes the call may sound like a hiccupping snore or like a person rubbing hands over a wet balloon. Mating occurs in water while the female swims with the male attached to her back. By releasing her eggs, the female stimulates milt release by the male, and the eggs are fertilized externally. The eggs are attached to twigs or plants below the surface of the water in large, flattened masses of 3,000 to 6,000 eggs.

LARVAE The aquatic tadpole can be described as a dark head quickly propelled through the water by a wriggly tail, all less than one inch (2.5 cm) long. The tadpoles and metamorphs are herbivores, feeding mostly on algae and other aquatic plants that they scrape off submerged rocks and twigs with a rasping mouth. They grow rapidly and by late spring are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long and begin to develop legs. The tadpoles will die if their watery homes dry up before they have metamorphosed into frogs; therefore, they must grow quickly where the pools are seasonal. Small frogs leave the water in the early summer to begin life on land, moving into the grass to feed and jumping into water to escape predators. A field near a permanent body of water will usually contain many small recent metamorphs in mid to late summer.

Mick Micacchion


The eggs absorb water and measure about 0.5 cm. Northern leopard frogs, like wood frogs, are communal egg layers and their egg masses are generally found in large clusters.

Egg masses

When fall comes, leopard frogs hibernate on the bottom of ponds through the winter.

Adult with eggs


Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) ADULTS

Spring peepers are the quintessential harbingers of spring, often appearing while there is still a hint of snow on the ground. These diminutive (0.75 to 1.25 inches) treefrogs vary from light to dark brown and often have a pinkish tinge. The toe discs characteristic of all tree frogs are slightly wider than the toes.

Quick Look Size: .7-1.25 inches (1.8–3.2 cm). Habitat: Moist woodlands, vernal pools during early spring. Distinguishing Feature: ‘X’ marking on their back. C of C: 3.


Spring peepers sport a distinctive dark “X” on their back, although at times it can be faint or broken. The marking gives them their Latin species name “crucifer” which means cross. A narrow dark line extends between the eyes on top of the head. They lack the thin white line on the upper lip of chorus frogs. Females tend to be larger than males, who also have dark throats. Photographic vouchers should include the “X” on the back and the dark line between the eyes. Adults produce glucose that acts as a cryoprotectant, preventing winter freezing. This allows them to become active earlier in spring than other species. They overwinter beneath leaf litter, loose bark, or decaying logs.

Spring peepers feed on terrestrial invertebrates, including spiders, ants, beetles, snails, ticks, and mites. REPRODUCTION The spring peeper’s call is a series of short, loud, high-pitched “peeps” giving this species its name. Males establish territories and defend an area roughly one foot in diameter. The calling behavior of spring peepers was studied from a number of angles including mate selection, territorial behavior, bio-acoustics, and the physiological costs of making so much noise. One of the more interesting discoveries was made in the 1940’s by C.J. Goin. He found that peepers usually sing in trios even if there are hundreds of frogs in the marsh. The three frogs each sing a different note, one frog after the other. A full chorus is made up of many of these tiny trios, each frog apparently ignoring all others save the two with which it is “singing.” Spring peepers begin calling in late February or early March and continue until May.

Females deposit up to 1,000 tiny (less than 0.06 inches) eggs singularly or in clusters that hatch in three to fifteen days, depending on temperature.

Leo Kenney

Spring peeper egg mass (above); adults in other three photos

Sometimes the “X� may not be clearly visible so that the peeper may be confused with the mountain chorus frog

Spring peepers usually sing in trios even if there are hundreds of frogs in the vernal pool.

L. Lee Cerny

Tadpoles are tiny (up to 1.3 inches) and greenish with gold flecks. The tadpoles feed on the detritus of the pool bottom. They emerge in five to eight weeks with the remnants of a tail still present.

Mick Micacchion



Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) Although the western chorus frog is found in most Ohio counties, it is most common in the glaciated sections of the state.


Western chorus frogs mating

Quick Look Size: 0.75-1.25 inches (1.9–3.2 cm). Habitat: Marshy wetlands and vernal pools. Distinguishing Feature: Three distinctive dark stripes run down the back. C of C: 4.


Adults grow to about 3 cm and are light brown or gray with three irregular stripes (hence “triseriata”) running longitudinally down their backs. The frogs live in densely vegetated, wooded, shrubby, or grassy areas. Using their small toe-end pads to climb a foot or so from the ground, they stalk and feed on small insects, slugs, crustaceans, worms, and similar prey. Elevated levels of glucose in their muscles and livers act as an antifreeze, allowing them to survive temperatures as low as 25 degrees F for up to two weeks. The breeding calls of male western chorus frogs sound like someone running a fingernail along the teeth of a metal comb. They begin calling in February or early March and are among the most prominent audio signals of spring (along with calls of the spring peeper).

Breeding populations can consist of a few individuals to many dozens that congregate through the beginning of May in vernal pools or temporary open marshy wetlands. Western chorus frogs may share these breeding areas with spring peepers, northern leopard, and wood frogs, and with small-mouthed, spotted, and other pond-breeding salamanders. REPRODUCTION Western chorus frogs reach sexual maturity within one or two years. Because they have great fidelity to their natal pools, one of the factors in conservation of these animals is protection of their breeding sites. There have been reports of frogs trying to breed on sides of houses or parking lots that have been built on their breeding sites. The male’s call is greatly amplified by his elastic throat (“gular”) pouch. The females are attracted to the most vigorous calls and, upon approach, the selected male climbs “piggyback” upon her, tightly hugging her for several hours in an embrace called amplexus.

During amplexus the male helps squeeze the eggs from the female, fertilizing them with his sperm as they exit.



There have been reports of frogs trying to breed on sides of houses or parking lots that have been built on their breeding sites.

The hatching period is temperature-dependent and occurs in a week or two. The 0.3-cm tadpoles begin feeding off algae, bacteria, and other components of the slimy biofilm that coats the living and decaying vegetation in the water. Sometime in May or June they will transform into young adults.

Mick Micacchion

The eggs are deposited near vegetative cover upon thin leaves of rushes, sedges, or grasses in clear gelatinous masses speckled with embryos that resemble poppy seeds.

Western chorus frogs mating 21

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica/Lithobates (Rana) sylvatica)

Mick Micacchion


Quick Look Size: 1.4-2.8 inches (3.5-7 cm), females larger than males. Habitat: Woodlands, moist woodlands Distinguishing Feature: A dark mask behind and below each eye running through the tympanum to the shoulder, dark stripe from eye to snout, white line along upper lip. C of C: 7.


As their name implies, wood frogs need habitats with a high percentage of forest cover. A suitable habitat would comprise an area of at least a square kilometer of land where 50% or more is forested. Larger percentages are preferred. Wood frogs are dependent on these cooler, shady, moist environments for survival. Wood frogs require fish-free breeding pools with seasonal hydrology and will not travel great distances to reach the breeding pools. Once found across the entire state, they are now absent from most of western Ohio. By the late 1800’s, nearly all of western Ohio was deforested, drained, and converted to agricultural production. Even though there are now large areas of reestablished, mature, and forested habitat with vernal pools in parts of western Ohio, these areas are still without wood frogs. The distances to these restored habitats are too great and hostile for wood frogs to have repopulated them by migration from their existing habitats.

Outside of breeding season, wood frogs can be found amongst leaf litter, woody debris, and other refuges on the forest floor in moist habitats under the shade of mature trees. This is a hardy species and its range extends beyond Hudson Bay in northern Canada, further north than any other amphibian species. Individuals have been found in the winter under only a thin cover of leaf litter and totally frozen. Large amounts of glucose in their bodies keep their vital body cells from freezing. Once thawed, they resume their normal life behaviors without any ill effects. During Ohio winters, this species can be found actively moving during warm spells. In the late fall and winter, the frogs hibernate without utilizing refuges below the frost line. REPRODUCTION Wood frogs are communal breeders, and large numbers of individuals migrate to the breeding pools during the first warm rainy days of late winter. The appearance of wood frogs is another harbinger of spring; when their song is heard, the end of winter cannot be far away. Mating and egg laying occurs for only a period of two to

Adults float on top of the water with the males singing periodically. The male will move toward a female and, if she reacts positively and does not retreat, approach her from behind. He mounts her by grasping her body with his forelimbs locked in a position known as amplexus. Mating pairs will remain in this grasp for several hours. After some period, while still in amplexus, the female releases the eggs and the male fertilizes them as they are deposited. The egg masses grow larger as they absorb water and average approximately 3 inches (7.5 cm) in length, 4 inches (10 cm) wide and 2 inches (5 cm) in depth. Eggs are laid at or just below the surface, attached to pool vegetation, twigs, or some other structure. Egg masses vary greatly in the number of eggs, but average about 1,000 eggs per mass. Large numbers of egg


Males arrive first and begin calling to attract females. The song is similar to the sound of quacking ducks and can be loud when close to a pool with large numbers of males singing. Once the females arrive, mating begins.

masses, sometimes exceeding one hundred in a cluster, are deposited in the same area within the breeding pool. The large rafts of eggs are loosely interconnected and appear to be one large mass. Some egg masses will have their upper part above water level. This renders the eggs susceptible to severe weather and it is not unusual, in cold springs, for some of the eggs to be completely white indicating they are unviable due to freezing. Egg development depends on water temperature and gestation can range from two to four weeks. Wood frog with eggs

Tadpoles grow quickly and metamorphose in six to ten weeks with an average span of 67 days. The larvae eat microorganisms and vegetative material at the pool bottom. Large numbers of metamorphs leave the pools at the same time. A visit to a vernal pool when wood frogs are emerging can yield sightings of several hundred miniature, perfect replicas of the adults. Shortly after emerging, metamorphs leave the pool and find suitable habitat in the adjacent forest. Males reach sexual maturity in one to two years and females in two to three years.

three days after which the adults leave the pool and return to their forest habitats.

Adult 23

American Toad


(Acris crepitans blanchardi) C of C: 7

Mick Micacchion

Mick Micacchion

C of C: 2

(Anaxyrus americanus)

Blanchard’s Cricket Frog


D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

(Lithobates catesbeiana) C of C: 2

Pickerel Frog

Jim McCormac

(Lithobates palustris)

C of C: 7


Green Frog

Spadefoot Toad


(Scaphiopus holbrookii)

C of C: 10 26

D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

(Lithobates clamitans) C of C: 1

Salamanders The universe unlocks its secrets every spring in the rhythmic dance of the salamanders.

Nina Harfmann


Spotted salamander Salamanders



Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Amphibia Order: Caudata Family: Ambystomatidae Four-toed Salamander Family: Plethodontidae

For genus and species of other salamanders, see individual pages.


Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) The four-toed salamanders, Ohio’s smallest salamander, is rarely more than 3.5 inches long. It is a member of the family Plethodontidae (“pletho” means “abundant”; “odont” means “tooth”). It is named for the numerous “vomerine” teeth found on the roof of the mouth. These salamanders lack lungs and breathe entirely through its skin and mucus membranes. The four-toed salamander is brown with a darker herringbone pattern down the back. The pattern on the back looks like stacked shields. Its Latin name “scutatum” means “shield.” The belly is whitish with black speckles. Other Ohio salamanders have four toes on the front feet and five toes on the hind feet. The four-toed salamander has four toes on both the front and back feet. The four-toed salamander also has a constriction at the juncture of tail and body that allows the tail to be easily dropped. Although widely distributed throughout Ohio, the number of four-toed salamander has been reduced to because of its dependence on undisturbed vernal pools and swamp forests.

It is now listed as a Species of Special Concern. Even where abundant, the species is cryptic and can be overlooked. REPRODUCTION & LARVAE Four-toed salamanders may breed in the spring and fall, with courtship and fertilization occurring in the terrestrial adult habitat. The male conducts a “tail straddling” walk alongside and upon the female, and then deposits spermatophores on the courting area substrate. The female takes the sperm into her cloaca and moves to the breeding area. Belly side up, she lays two dozen or so clear, sticky 1/8-inch eggs suspended within mats or clumps of moss (including sphagnum) on hummocks or logs within or at the edges of the pool. She broods her clutch for several weeks. The eggs are deposited where larvae can wriggle and drop down into the water as they hatch. The female does not venture into standing water as adults are completely terrestrial and can drown. Larvae are small and remain in shallow water. The larvae metamorphose in four to six weeks, and reproduce two years later.

Leo Kenney


Quick Look Size: 2-3.5 inches (5.1-8.9 cm). Habitat: Areas of sphagnum and other mosses in vernal pools and swamp forests. Distinguishing Feature: Small size, white underside with black spotting, four toes on hind limbs, constriction at base of tail. C of C: 10.


Blue-spotted Salamander

(Ambystoma laterale)


L. Lee Cerny

Blue-spotted salamanders are one of the smaller species of mole salamanders (family Ambystomatidae) having a slender build and rarely exceeding 5.5 inches in total length. It is also one of Ohio’s rarest salamanders, found only in a few northwestern Ohio counties.

Quick Look Size: 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). Habitat: Sandy soil; under logs and other debris in forests and wet prairies. Distinguishing Feature: Blue flecks on its bluishblack body. C of C: 10.


Blue-spotted salamanders prefer to live in areas of sandy soil, as they are only found in the Oak Openings Region southwest of Toledo and in Williams County near the Indiana and Michigan borders. For this reason, the species is listed as endangered by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The most distinctive characteristic of the bluespotted salamander is the bluish flecking that is found on the sides of the body. While this flecking is found on other salamanders, they only have some of the genetic material of the bluespotted salamander. (Refer to the unisexual ambystoma complex on page 40 for how to distinguish the blue-spotted from a unisexual salamander.)

Blue-spotted salamanders can often be found outside of the breeding season, which is unusual for most Ambystomid salamanders. Presumably they are poor burrowers and therefore are often found under logs and other debris in forests and wet prairies. REPRODUCTION Like all of Ohio’s mole salamanders, the bluespotted salamander relies on temporary bodies of water for reproduction. Unlike other species, they appear to more often use non-forested wetlands, such as the twig-rush wet prairies found in the Oak Openings Region. Blue-spotted salamanders will also breed in vernal pools, swamp forests, and possibly even ditches. Reproduction takes place in late March or early April, when temperatures exceed 50 degrees F and snowmelt or rain fills the breeding pools. At this time, male salamanders leave their underground retreats and move to shallow pools where they attempt to entice females. A male salamander will clasp onto a female, rubbing his chin against her snout.

The sperm is used to fertilize the eggs that are laid singularly or in small clusters of up to four. They are attached to twigs or leaves, or scattered along the pond bottom. One female may lay up to 500 eggs, but usually each female lays 200 to 250 eggs. The carnivorous larvae hatch three to four weeks later, depending on the water temperature, and complete their metamorphosis eight to twelve weeks later. In northwest Ohio, egg laying most commonly occurs in the first week of April and young salamanders are first found leaving the pools in early July.

LARVAE The larvae of the blue-spotted salamander are impossible to distinguish from those of the unisexual ambystoma complex (with which they are always found in Ohio) without the use of molecular tools. A light lateral stripe runs along the body, bordered by darker, dorsal blotches. The ventral (under) side of the larvae is unmarked, except for some dark stippling around the margins of the jaw. Wild-caught larvae often appear very dark when first captured, and this may be a result of the intense sunlight that their aquatic habitat receives. ODNR

If all goes well, the male will deposit a packet of sperm on top of a gelatinous stalk (called a spermatophore) that is then carefully picked up by the female using her cloaca.

Beauty is a rainy night in early spring surrounded by woods and a vernal pool. Anonymous


Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Mick Micacchion


Quick Look Size: 6.5-10 inches (16-15 cm). Habitat: Mature deciduous forest, disturbed woods, and more open areas such as prairies and other grasslands and even agricultural fields; needs breeding pools. Distinguishing Feature: Extremely large and stocky body and legs, as well as large head and mouth. C of C: 9. 32

Tiger salamanders are bluish-black to blackishbrown with a series of pale yellow or tan spots of varying shapes and sizes. The spots can be extremely pale, and can be missing on some individuals while on others the spotting can be bold, making individuals appear to be large spotted salamanders. These are Ohio’s largest terrestrial salamander and, owing to their big powerful legs and body, are the most able burrowers of the Ambystomatids. The head and front and hind limbs are all used for excavating burrows and the species prefers areas with unconsolidated, often sandy soils. However, they also exist in locations with much tighter soils and even areas of exposed bedrock. Small mammal burrows are also used for refuges. Tiger salamanders are the ultimate ambush hunters. Their name comes from their habit of remaining immobile and camouflaged, then flashing forward using their powerful forelimbs, grabbing the prey in their large mouths and thrashing their heads back and forth, forcefully and repeatedly, before swallowing.

Of all the species of the genus, tiger salamanders are the furthest ranging and can be found in excess of 250 meters away from their breeding pools. Habitats include mature deciduous forests, disturbed woods, and more open areas such as prairies and other grasslands and even agricultural fields. However, their habitats must contain breeding pools with appropriate hydroperiods. They utilize both temporary and permanent pools for breeding but select those without predaceous fish populations. This species, limited to most of western Ohio, will not be found in areas with high road densities. REPRODUCTION Large breeding runs occur at night in February or March coinciding with warm air temperatures and rain. However, in most years the breeding activity can occur over the course of several weeks. Males reach the pools first but are closely followed by the females. Once a group of three or more individuals are in close proximity within a pool, the mating begins. It starts with nudging by the males as they will press their snout against another nearby adult sometimes lifting them up in the process.

The egg masses range in size from about 2 to 2.75 inches (5.5 to 7 cm) in diameter and enlarge and become more flimsy as the eggs mature. Length of gestation varies considerably based on the time of deposition and the temperature of pools. Normal gestation is 30 to 40 days.

The larvae, while small at hatching, grow extremely quickly and within a short period of time are the top predators in the pool. The overall size, relative largeness of the head and mouth, and the distinctive triangular shape of the digits make larger tiger salamander larvae easy to identify. When small, the larvae eat a range of invertebrates but as they grow their diets include vertebrates utilizing the pool. The larvae have voracious appetites and will eat anything that fits into their mouths including larvae of other Ambystomatid species and even, at times, smaller larvae of their own species. It is not unusual to find tiger salamander larvae in pools with other Ambystomatid species. In these situations they undoubtedly eat some of the other larvae but never enough to greatly affect the number of metamorphs leaving the pool. By the time larvae metamorphose, which can be as late as August in pools with longer hydroperiods, they can reach total lengths in advance of 6 inches (15 cm).


Tiger salamander egg masses can be oblong or globular and are attached to twigs, vegetation, and other structures within the pools most often at depths between 12 to 40 inches (30 cm to 101 cm). The masses are most often comprised of between ten and fifty eggs and are bundled in a clear jelly that makes them relatively difficult to observe especially given the depths of deposition.



Mick Micacchion

If the other adult is a female, the mating will move forward. The female reciprocates with her own nudging that leads to deposition of spermatophores by the male. The male then guides the female to a spermatophore where she absorbs the sperm capsule using her vent. The sperm is stored in the cloaca and the eggs are fertilized as they are laid within the next two nights.

Larvae 33

Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum)

Mick Micacchion


Quick Look Size: 4.75-7 inches (12.1-17.8 cm). Habitat: Deciduous forest, vernal pools. Distinguishing Feature: A long, broad snout, aerodynamically shaped head, and long slender digits. C of C: 6.


Adult Jefferson salamanders spend the majority of their life cycle underground in burrows, either dug by themselves but more often those abandoned by small mammals. They are most visible during the breeding season but individuals can be found under and in fallen logs, leaf litter, and rock exposures during other times of the year. Their presence is more dependent upon upland deciduous forest than any other Ambystoma species and they will not tolerate the wet woods of floodplains and swamp forests. Within upland forests they are limited to areas with suitable seasonally inundated breeding pools whose presence is more important than the composition of the forest and other landscape components. Breeding pools need not be large, but they must stay inundated from at least late February to early June, later in northern Ohio, in most years. This species can be found throughout southern and eastern Ohio but is not present in most of western and all of northwestern Ohio.

This species is known to share breeding sites with spotted, small-mouthed, tiger, and marbled salamanders, red-spotted newts, spring peepers, gray treefrogs, and wood, northern leopard, pickerel, western chorus, and mountain chorus frogs. Where pools are shared with larval marbled salamanders and adult red-spotted newts, those species may consume Jefferson salamander eggs. Recently hatched larvae can also fall prey to marbled salamander larvae. REPRODUCTION This is often the earliest breeding salamander species. It is not unusual to have reports from southern Ohio of limited breeding attempts even as early as late December, but typically in January in many years. More than other species, the breeding runs are spread over a greater period of time, often several weeks each spring, depending on weather patterns. These intermittent runs may be separated by periods of inactivity especially in years when warm winter weather is interspersed with periods of extreme cold. A one-night breeding run of a large number of adults is not typical.

This mating behavior, which can include rather pronounced thrashing about, is followed by males depositing spermatophores on the substrates. The female then follows the male and, using her vent, picks up the sperm capsules of the spermatophores. Females store sperm in the cloaca and eggs are fertilized as they are deposited a day or two after mating. Females deposit eggs on grasses, twigs, fallen tree branches, and other support structures below the water surface within the pool.

Nina Harfmann

Courtship and mating occur at night in the shallow water zones of the pools. Once groups of adults are aggregated, courtship begins. Males approach females with various tactile encounters including extended amplexus followed by males undulating their tails and rubbing their snouts on the top and sides of the heads of females.

Egg masses are oblong and contain between eight and 55 (average 22) eggs. The egg masses are most easily confused with spotted salamander egg masses. They differ in being oblong rather than round and having fewer numbers of eggs with vitelline membranes (clear, firm capsules surrounding the ovum of each egg) that are much thinner. Depending on water temperature, eggs hatch within four to six weeks. LARVAE The diet of small larvae is made up of a variety of zooplankton of which cladocerans, copepods, and amphipods comprise the highest percentage. Larvae grow rapidly and may complete metamorphosis in two months. However, when water temperatures are cool or frequent rains provide added longevity to the pool, the period of development can be extended. Survivability among larvae is low. Those metamorphs fortunate enough to leave the pool find habitat in the surrounding forest. Sexual maturity is reached in three years.

Eggs (above) and larvae (below)

Nina Harfmann

Since they often breed in pools shared with spotted salamanders, Jefferson adults can be observed during spotted salamander breeding runs, although in much smaller numbers.


Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum) ADULTS


The marbled salamander is one of the mole salamanders (genus Ambystoma; “amby” means “cup”; “stoma” means “mouth”). Mole salamanders are named for their habit of burrowing under leaf litter and logs on the forest floor. These salamanders inhabit moist to drier sandy woodlands. They are nocturnal and feed on worms, crustaceans, slugs, and insects.

Quick Look Size: 3.5-4.5 inches (8.9-11.4 cm). Habitat: Wooded areas; vernal pools for breeding. Distinguishing Feature: Black with broad transverse white or silvery bands across the back. C of C: 8.


The marbled salamander is the smallest of Ohio’s mole salamanders, reaching an average of about 3.9 inches (10 cm) in length. They have a stocky build. Their black body with whitish to silvery markings gives marbled salamanders their name. REPRODUCTION While Ohio’s other Ambystomids breed in late winter or early spring, the marbled salamander breeds in the fall. The males migrate to dry vernal pools in August, September, or October, with the females following a few days or a week later.

During courtship, which may occur near the nesting site or at some distance from it, the male moves aggressively, nudging aside other males and courting a female with tail undulations and body nudging centered on the cloacal (anal vent) area. He will eventually deposit a white 0.5 cm spermatophore on the ground near the female, sometimes on top of a spermatophore previously laid by a different male, thereby eliminating his competition. The female will then move over it and take the seminal fluid from the top of the spermatophore up into her cloaca. In a couple days, she will lay between 50 and 200 eggs in a nest prepared from a small depression in the vernal pool bed. Usually the clutches are deposited in individual nests, but communal egg laying also occurs. The female will then brood these eggs, occasionally swarming about and turning them to keep the eggs moist and ward off fungal infection. Some clutches are abandoned by the female, and hatching success in these eggs seems to be reduced.

Marbled salamanders often share their breeding pools with other amphibian species, including spring peepers, western chorus frogs, wood frogs, and other Ambystomid salamanders. Their larvae are very predatory on other amphibian larvae, including their own. This aggressive behavior leads to some mortality within the marbled population of the pool, and most nearly-grown larvae have damage to their tails and limbs (these will grow back if the animal survives).

In some years marbled salamander larvae can be seen in winter swimming under the ice of vernal pools. However, if the season is a dry one they will not hatch until the spring rains come.

They will metamorphose into 5 cm young adults in late May or June.

The newly hatched 1 to 1.4 cm larvae are brown, with a line of light specks on their lower sides between the front and rear legs. Their dorsal fin extends up the back to nearly the front legs, and their gills are large feathery structures that extend from the side of the head. They feed on tiny crustaceans such as ostracods and copepods, as well as insect larvae, mites, and other animal prey as the larvae grow.

The marbled salamander is the smallest of Ohio’s mole salamanders, reaching an average of about ten centimeters long.

Leo Kenney

The larvae develop inside the eggs for about two weeks until they are ready to hatch, but hatching only occurs when the rains come and fill the pool. Females place eggs about midway on the slope of the pool. In this position, water will not start to cover the eggs until the pool is full enough that it is likely to retain water until the summer dry down. When the water covers the clutch, the reduction in oxygen within the submerged eggs triggers emergence of the larvae within two days.

Marbled salamander larva with spotted salamander eggs

Joe Martinez



Small-mouthed Salamander (Abystoma texanum)

Mick Micacchion


Ambystoma texanum, gravid female

Quick Look Size: 4.5-6.25 inches (11.4-16 cm). Habitat: Bottomland and floodplain forests; prairies with vernal pools. Distinguishing Feature: Small head; narrow, short snout; relatively small mouth. C of C: 4.


The small-mouthed salamander is the most tolerant of habitat disturbances of all the pondbreeding salamander species in Ohio. Even in relatively intact habitats, it can successfully breed in pools with shallower depths and shorter durations of inundation than other Ambystomatid species. These adaptations allow the smallmouthed salamander to survive in a wide range of environments. It is no surprise then that the few remaining populations of pond-breeding salamanders in urban areas are invariably comprised almost exclusively of this species. HABITAT This is a species of bottomland and floodplain forests but can also be found in prairies and other more open habitats. The species occurs in a large part of the state but is absent from extreme eastern Ohio and most of southern Ohio. They are very similar and closely related to the streamside salamander, which is found in southwestern Ohio. However, as its name implies, the streamside salamander breeds exclusively in the fish-free pools of headwater streams. Until recently it was

believed these were two subspecies of the smallmouthed salamander. Small-mouthed salamanders tend to live in extremely close proximity, typically within 50 to 100 meters, of their breeding pools and will often utilize abandoned crayfish burrows and other low-lying refuges as homes. Adults are most easily seen during the breeding season when they congregate at breeding pools in large numbers. Outside of the breeding season, individuals spend a large percentage of their life underground. However, at times, the species can be observed under logs, leaf litter, and other cover. REPRODUCTION Small-mouthed salamanders are among the earliest of vernal pool breeders and their runs can occur as early as February in some years. During the runs, large numbers of adults enter the pools on warm rainy nights. Males generally enter the pools first with females arriving soon after. Once females are present, the courting dances begin, including nudging of the females by the males, triggering the fertilization process.

Within 48 hours, eggs are laid in small, flimsy, elongated clusters on twigs, leaves, and vegetation within the pool waters. Egg masses are made up of between 2 to 15 eggs, averaging about ten per cluster and can be difficult to observe due to the small size of the masses. Eggs hatch in three to six weeks depending on the temperatures of pool waters with earlier deposited eggs requiring a longer period of gestation. LARVAE Small larvae feed on an array of zooplankton and, as they grow, eat progressively larger invertebrates. Their diets include ostracods, cladocerans, isopods, amphipods, copepods, chironomids, gastropods, odonates and coleopterans. Smaller, recently hatched larvae feed in the water column while larger, more mature larvae use the pool bottoms where they often seek cover in leaf litter and other detritus.

Larvae can be found in pools that appear to be dry because the pools are only holding water in the several inches of leaf litter that comprise the pool substrates. The larval period can range from two to three months. Individuals leaving the pool reach sexual maturity in approximately two years. In breeding pools shared with other salamander species, small-mouthed salamanders metamorphose earlier and leave the pools ahead of the other species.

Small larvae feed on an array of zooplankton and, as they grow, eat progressively larger invertebrates.

Alan Tomko

Males deposit large numbers of spermatophores on leaves and twigs on the pool bottom. Females straddle the spermatophores and remove the sperm capsules with their cloacae.



Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) ADULTS

Nina Harfmann

Spotted salamanders belong to the family Ambystomatidae, commonly known as mole salamanders, because of their habit of living under logs, rocks, or leaf litter, or of occupying burrows dug either by themselves or other animals.

Quick Look Size: 5-8 inches (12.7-20.3 cm). Habitat: Large tracts of forested upland habitat surrounding vernal pools; during breeding season they travel to vernal pools. Distinguishing Feature: Dark gray to black body with two parallel rows of yellow spots. C of C: 8. 40

Mole salamanders have lungs as adults, but also conduct gas exchange (CO2, O2) and can absorb water through their moist skin, which secretes a coating that protects them from fungal and bacterial infection. They should always be handled with wet hands, as dry skin may rub off this coating, exposing them to infection. Because the skin is so porous to materials in the environment, they are very sensitive to pollutants, pH, and other water and air quality factors. Spotted salamanders can live a dozen or so years, and become sexually mature in two to three years. A healthy population needs many acres of forested area around or near their vernal pool. During most of the year the mainly nocturnal 6-inch long adults forage for worms, centipedes,

spiders, and small insects. Small mammals prey on them as do birds such as owls, herons, and perhaps turkeys. These salamanders are sensitive to changes in their ecosystem such as habitat loss or change in water quality. They will swim away from the light of a flashlight. REPRODUCTION Spotted salamanders rely on vernal pools for breeding and early development. On warm, wet nights in March or early April, the adults migrate from as far away as 100 meters to their breeding pool (usually the one they were themselves born in) from the surrounding forest, using the same route year after year. The males, which arrive a few days before the females, release a pheromone, produced by glands in their skins, into the water that stimulates the females’ breeding response. After nudging additional pheromone into the females with their snouts, each male deposits a dozen or so spermatophores onto leaves at the floor of the pool. They look like tiny spitwads or pieces of bread, each on a little pedestal (photo).

Spermatophores are tiny packets of mainly reproductive cells deposited by the male for the female to pick up

Larvae (inset) and eggs, which are often deposited in communal clusters


LARVAE Salamander larvae are among the top pool predators, eating microorganisms, worms, small

The larvae grow legs very quickly–front legs first–and have feathery external gills that will be absorbed by the time they grow lungs, transform into 2 to 3-inch long adults, and leave the drying pool, usually by early July. Leo Kenney

Some egg masses will turn a milky white, while others may support a symbiotic algal growth that may, through oxygen generation via photosynthesis, promote larval development. There is often high egg mortality of these and other amphibian eggs through infection and predation by caddisfly larvae and other insects. The eggs take roughly six to eight weeks to hatch into 1 cm-long, free-swimming, blackish larvae. Care should be taken to minimize the amount of wading in pools, as the sediment stirred up can settle on the eggs and lead to additional infection and mortality.

crustaceans such as daphnia and fairy shrimp, insect larvae (for instance, one salamander larva can eat hundreds of mosquito larvae!), and even other amphibian larvae. They in turn are prey for giant water bugs, predaceous diving beetles, and turtles.

Nina Harfmann

The female squats over these structures and takes the sperm-bearing tips into her cloaca, thus the eggs are fertilized internally and are laid a day or two later. The female will lay as many as 200 eggs in a globular mass that will absorb water and expand to a clear, thickly-gelatinous mass the size of a fist, attaching it to a twig or other debris just below the surface.

Two parallel lines of yellow spots make this salamander easy to identify


Unisexual Ambystoma

(Ambystoma complex) ADULTS

Greg Lipps

While most Ohio salamanders can be neatly defined as a species, there are some notable exceptions. One group of salamanders–the unisexual ambystoma complex–defies simplicity and the usual methods of categorizing animals.

Quick Look Size: 5-6 inches (those with tiger salamander genes could be up to 9 inches). Habitat: Extremely varied. Only unifying factor is the presence of suitable breeding area and some forested habitat. Distribution: Seen from the northern tier of counties along Lake Erie to southwest Ohio, unisexual salamanders may be present throughout the state. Distinguishing Feature: Having more than two sets of chromosomes. C of C: 5.


guides, including Kelleys Island salamander, silvery salamander, and Tremblay’s salamander. While it may not be possible to know the genetic makeup of the animal you are looking at, there are some characteristics that can help identify a unisexual ambystoma.

As the name implies, nearly all individuals in this complex are female. The small number (less than 1%) that are males are usually sterile. The genetic makeup of the individuals in this complex may include contributions from the blue-spotted, Jefferson, small-mouthed, and tiger salamanders.

First, if the individual has a noticeably swollen cloaca, then it is a male and probably not a unisexual ambystoma. Second, as all known members of the complex include genetic material from the blue-spotted salamander, some amount of blue flecking is usually evident on the sides of the body.

While most ambystoma salamanders have two sets of chromosomes (diploid), the members of this complex may have three, four, or even five sets of chromosomes. Geneticists have identified more than twenty different genetic combinations of unisexual ambystoma thus far. This variety is evident in the wide-ranging appearance of individuals.

Third, the extra copies of chromosomes found in many of these animals results in a corresponding increase in body size. Adult unisexual ambystoma are often larger than the maximum size reported for most of the “pure” species, with the exception of the tiger salamander.

In the past, some of these varieties were given names that you may still run across in field

Finally, unisexual ambystoma are most commonly encountered in northern Ohio, but may occur throughout the state.



How an all-female group of salamanders reproduces only adds to the intrigue of these animals. Scientists think that unisexual ambystoma require the sperm of another species– blue-spotted, Jefferson, small-mouthed, or tiger salamander–to activate the eggs of the female.

The larvae of unisexual ambystoma are indistinguishable from other species without the use of molecular tools in the laboratory.

How much, if any, of the male’s genetic contribution is incorporated into the developing embryo is unpredictable. The fact that these all-female salamanders are able to “steal” only portions of the genes from unwitting males has led one scientist to coin their reproductive mode “kleptogenesis.”

Mick Micacchion

Adults, above and below

Matt Raymond

All of this mixing of genes leads to another phenomenon that can be useful for identifying populations of unisexual ambystoma. The majority of the eggs laid usually do not survive to hatching; therefore, it is not uncommon to see moldy white eggs, either singly or in small clusters, attached to leaves and twigs throughout a wetland inhabited by members of this complex.

Greg Lipps

Most often, the larvae closely resemble those of blue-spotted, Jefferson, and small-mouthed salamanders.



(Notophthalmus viridescens)

Quick Look Size: 3-5 inches (7.5-12.5 cm). Habitat: Woodlands, semi-permanent to permanent water bodies. Distinguishing Feature: Olive green body with red spots and yellow underside with small black spots. C of C: 6.


ADULTS Red-spotted newts are the only Ohio member of the family Salamandridae, or true salamanders. They are olive green to yellowish brown with small reddish spots surrounded by a black outline. The belly is bright yellow with small black spots; the tail is distinctly keeled. Immature red-spotted newts are called red efts (top photo inset). During this phase, they live on land and are red-to-orangish in color. After about three years, the red-spotted newts return to the ponds. The broader tail of the male is marked with irregular spots while the female’s tail tends to have spots in a striped appearance. REPRODUCTION During breeding season, males develop black, horny growths on their inner hind thighs and toes. These growths are used to hold the female during mating. Courtship is often an elaborate affair with much snout touching and tail waving. Courtship and egg-laying occurs from March to June. Females may mate 20 to 30 times, depositing 6 to 20 eggs each time. Eggs are less than 0.2 cm in diameter, slightly elliptical, and attached singly to vegetation.

Eggs hatch in three to five weeks. The larvae are yellowish-green with a dark stripe running from the tip of the blunt snout through the eye. They have a distinctive yellow belly. LARVAE Three to four months after hatching, larvae lose their gills and move onto land to begin life as red efts. Red efts have bright orange skin with a distinctive bumpy texture and rounded tail. This orange color warns predators of the powerful neurotoxin in their skin. Other salamanders have been shown to benefit from the mimicry of this warning coloration. After three to seven years, their skin becomes slimy and darkens to olive green and the tail becomes keeled. They will spend their adult lives in water as mature redspotted newts (below).

Jim McCormac

Mick Micacchion

Nina Harfmann

Red-spotted Newt


I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.

Walt Whitman

Eastern garter snake




Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Reptilia Order: Squamata Suborder: Serpentes Family: Colubridae


Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Adult eastern garter snakes are polygamous, mating with more than one partner. They have a diet of amphibians and earthworms and usually hunt during the day. Their saliva appears to be toxic to amphibians and other small animals and a bite may produce swelling or a rash in some people. The eastern garter snake eats its prey alive and whole. REPRODUCTION & YOUNG Eastern garter snake young emerge alive from the body of the mother. Many other species of snakes lay eggs from which the young hatch. During gestation, each young snake is protected and nurtured in a thin sac-like membrane that contains a yolk. Young emerge from the mother anytime between July and October. The size and number of young depend on the age, size, and condition of the mother.

Eastern garter snake young emerge alive from the body of the mother.


Quick Look Size: 18-26 inches (45-66 cm). Habitat: Stream edges, wetlands, hillsides, fields, and residential areas. Distinguishing Feature: Two broad stripes on each side and a narrow stripe down its back.


Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus)

Kent Bekker


Quick Look Size: 18-26 inches (45.7-66 cm). Habitat: Weedy, wet areas such as edges of streams and bodies of water, marshes, bogs, and ponds, and in wet meadows. Distinguishing Feature: Three lightcolored stripes that run along the body. Number of Offspring: 4-27.


The eastern ribbon snake is a slender, striped snake, similar to the garter snake but with a much longer tail, which generally accounts for one third or more of total body length. The eastern ribbon snake has a dot in front of each eye, whereas the garter snake does not. It is patterned with three yellow stripes on a reddishbrown background. A distinct dark band separates each side stripe from the belly. The ribbon snake has keeled scales and a pale yellow or green belly. They prefer to eat amphibians, especially frogs; they also eat fish and insects. In some cases, the female has been observed eating her young. Snakes typically hunt in the morning or early evening. Once prey is spotted, the snake will quickly slither to catch it and swallow it whole. Ribbon snakes tend to be most active during the spring. If summer weather dries up their environment, these snakes may become dormant until conditions improve. Ribbon snakes are comfortable both in and out of water and are adept swimmers. They may be found basking on logs, hummocks, or muskrat lodges.

If threatened, ribbon snakes will escape into dense cover or open water. They rarely bite, but do secrete a foul musk from their anal glands when alarmed. During late May through September, ribbon snakes live in a five-to-ten-square-meter area, generally within five meters of water. Between September and mid-October, the ribbon snake expands its range up to 173 meters away from a shoreline. This low activity rate and range puts these snakes in danger of local extinction. REPRODUCTION Reproduction takes place after they emerge from hibernation in April or May. Mating occasionally takes place in the fall, but the female will delay fertilization and development until the next spring. The average gestation period is three months. The average number of young is 12, but can range anywhere from 4 to 27. Females give birth in late summer or even early fall. After birth, the young are left to fend for themselves. Most young reach sexual maturity after two years, but usually wait until the third year.

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) Also known as the common water snake, the stout-bodied northern water snake shows extreme variations in color and pattern, and is unfortunately confused by many with the poisonous water moccasin or cottonmouth. The cottonmouth, however, does not occur in Ohio; it ranges no farther north than southeastern Virginia. The northern water snake is very wary and, when disturbed, will drop into the water and disappear quickly. They usually flee from humans, but when grabbed are almost always extremely aggressive.

Northern water snakes bite viciously and large ones are capable of producing painful, deep lacerations. When picked up, they invariably secrete an obnoxious smelling substance from their musk glands. REPRODUCTION & YOUNG Mating occurs in April and June and the young are born in the late summer and fall. The gestation period is three to five months with the number of offspring ranging from 4 to 99. These snakes do not lay eggs. No parental care is involved.


Quick Look Size: 24-42 inches (61-106 cm). Habitat: Water, land by water. Distinguishing Feature: Dorsal pattern of alternating blue-gray bands and brown to almost black with no pattern.



Bob Glotzhober

Dragonflies & Damselflies

Slender spreadwing


Dragonflies & Damselflies


Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Arthropoda Class: Insecta Order: Odonata Emerald Spreadwing Suborder: Zygoptera Family: Lestidae Shadow Darner Suborder: Anisoptera Family: Aeshnidae Swamp Darner Suborder: Anisoptera Family: Aeshnidae


Wandering Glider Suborder: Anisoptera Family: Libellulidae Lance-tipped Darner Suborder: Anisoptera Family: Aeshnidae Northern Spreadwing Suborder: Zygoptera Family: Lestidae Slender Spreadwing Suborder: Zygoptera Family: Lestidae Spot-winged Glider Suborder: Anisoptera Family: Libellulidae

As the name suggests, the dorsal surface of the thorax and abdomen of the emerald spreadwing damselfly is a bright, metallic green.

The emerald spreadwing is one of Ohio’s earliest damselflies. Adults fly between May 1 and the middle of August.

The lower surface of the thorax and the first two abdominal segments are a pale yellow to whitish color, and the last two abdominal segments are a pruinose white on top.

The adults oviposit while connected in tandem, with the female laying eggs above the waterline in the stems of bulrushes, cattails or other vegetation. The eggs over-winter and hatch in early spring, with adults emerging from the larvae a few months later.

Adult male emerald spreadwing

Dragonfly larva can be found in vernal pools and they vary in size and shape. Here are some examples of the larvae.

Kurt Keljo

Eileen Sawyer

Dragonfly Larvae

Adults average in length between 1.2 and 1.6 inches.

Allison Shaw

There are three other spreadwings with metallic green coloration and clear wings, but the emerald is the most likely one to be found around temporary pools. They inhabit vernal pools, small ponds, and marshes.

Glenn Corbiere

Emerald Spreadwing (Lestes dryas)


Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) The shadow darner is a large, brownish dragonfly with blue and yellow spots on the abdomen and two wide, yellow stripes on the sides of the thorax that are bordered with black. While adults are most common in September and October, this is one of the latest flying dragonflies in Ohio, with the flight season from July 4 through November 6. As its name suggests, the shadow darner often flies in the shadows of shady streams–sometimes along very small streams in deep forests. It also is active well past dusk on warm days.

The female oviposits without the male. Eggs are deposited into wet, decaying wood or sometimes soft mud. The larval stage lasts for one or even two years before they emerge as adults. Shadow darners average in length between 2.5 and 2.8 inches.


Bob Glotzhober

Glenn Corbiere

Males patrol streams about one foot above the water while looking for females with whom to mate. Sometimes they hover in one place for several seconds before flying along the stream.

Newly emerged shadow darner

Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros)

This is the only darner that is brown and green with thin green stripes on the abdomen, brilliant blue eyes, and often amber-tinted wings. Swamp darners forage from just above the ground to the very tree tops and, at rest, hang vertically from branches. Foraging adults may enter buildings and act very tame. They feed on large insects including cicadas, carpenter bees, and large dragonflies. Sometimes large numbers of them may be seen flying into swarms of termites or ants and gorging on them. The swamp darner is a true woodland vernal pool species, but also inhabits ponds, swamps, and slow streams.

The female oviposits in mud, dry pond bottoms, rotten wood, or sometimes in plant stems. This is one of a handful of species of dragonflies that is known to migrate but the details of such migration are poorly understood. Swamp darners average in length between 3.0 and 3.7 inches. William Hull

The swamp darner is a huge dragonfly, matched in size in Ohio only by the dragonhunter, which exceeds it not in length but in weight.

Large numbers of swamp darners may fly into swarms of termites or ants and gorge on them.


Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)

Bob Glotzhober

This is a medium-sized, yellowish dragonfly with shiny red eyes. This, combined with its easy, floating flight, makes field identification easy. The wandering glider is also known as the “globe skimmer,” as it is found on all continents except Antarctica. Recent studies show that these gliders participate in an annual migration following the monsoon rains from India to southeastern Africa and back with an estimated round-trip flight of 8,750 to 11,250 miles. The males may defend territories, floating about six feet off the ground over an area as large as 10 by 50 yards.

Females oviposit during solitary flight by tapping the abdomen on the surface of the water, dropping a few eggs at a time over a period of several days, until they have released 600 to 800 eggs. Sometimes females are fooled by shiny cars and fly around parking lots depositing eggs onto car hoods and roofs. Eggs hatch quickly and larvae can develop into adults in as little as 51 to 72 days. In tropical India, they may go through three complete life cycles in a single season. Adults average in length between 1.7 to 2 inches.

The wandering glider is also known as the “globe skimmer,” as it is found on all continents except Antarctica. 56

An inhabitant mostly of marshy ponds and slow streams, the lance-tipped darner is generally brownish but with many blue and yellow-green markings. It has two prominent, colored stripes on the side of the thorax that are yellow-green below and bluish above.

Lance-tipped darners generally hunt low to the ground, often within three feet or less. The female oviposits without the male, and injects her eggs into vertical slits she makes with the ovipositor into cattails, sweetflag, or other green vegetation.

The female has a very large spine-like ovipositor and large, lance-like anal appendages. The male claspers are large and paddle-like with a sharp spine pointing downward at the tip.

The adults are active in Ohio from late June to late October. They average in length between 2.5 to 2.9 inches.

Glenn Corbiere

Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta)

The northern spreadwing is a dark-colored damselfly with narrow, pale green stripes on the thorax and a pruinose whitish color on the last two abdominal segments. The face and eyes are usually bright blue. It is especially difficult to separate this from the southern spreadwing. Adults may appear in northern Ohio as early as May 17 but more typically from mid-June through August and even into September.

They may inhabit temporary pools, but more frequently are found in permanent pools, bogs, fens, and slow streams. The pair oviposits in tandem in plants above the water line. The eggs can survive temperatures of -4 degrees F. When temperatures run lower, snow cover insulates and protect the eggs. The eggs hatch in spring when water temperatures exceed 50 degrees F and take about sixty days to become adults. They average between 1.3 to 1.7 inches in length.

Glenn Corbiere

Northern Spreadwing (Lestes disjunctus)


Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis)

Bob Glotzhober

The slender spreadwing is the most common of all spreadwings in Ohio and is found statewide. It generally prefers shady habitats at permanent ponds, lakes, marshes, and quiet streams. Adults fly from May 21 to as late as October 28. The male is easy to identify, as it is the only spreadwing to not have whitish coloration on the tip of the abdomen, and the long, slender abdomen is twice the length of the wings.

Like other spreadwings, the eggs hatch in spring and it takes about two months for the larvae to mature into adults. The adults may live up to six weeks or more, not maturing enough to lay eggs until about three weeks after emerging from the larval stage. The female oviposits alone without the male, injecting eggs into plant stems above the water line. Adults average in length between 1.5 to 2.1inches.

Ann Johnson

Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)


The spot-winged glider is very similar to the wandering glider, but a little more tawny in color, with a dark spot at the base of the hindwings.

The females oviposit either in tandem with the male or solitary. The larvae can develop into adults in less than five weeks.

These gliders are widespread in Ohio but appear sporadically, arriving in the spring, breeding, and migrating south in the fall. This species is found through the Americas, from Canada to southern Argentina.

The adults are on the wing feeding from dawn to dusk–seemingly never landing to rest–but they cannot sustain flight for days like the wandering glider. They average in length between 1.5 to 1.9 inches.

L. Lee Cerny


Blanding’s turtle 59



Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Reptilia Order: Testudines Family: Emydidae Snapping Turtle Family: Chelydridae


Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) Blanding’s turtles usually have a dark, olivecolored shell with pale yellow spots. Like the box turtle, the Blanding’s has a hinged plastron, but it is not as functional as the box turtle’s because the front lobe of the plastron cannot be closed tightly. Typical foods include insects, leeches, snails, fish, frogs, and occasionally plants. During winter, these turtles hibernate underwater, partially buried in the substrate. REPRODUCTION & YOUNG The reproductive biology of turtles is fascinating. With the exception of softshell turtles, the sex of all species of Ohio turtles is dependent on the temperature at which the eggs develop.

For instance, eggs that develop at about 77 degrees F will all hatch out as males, while eggs that develop at much higher or lower temperatures will all hatch out as females. In the wild, warmer eggs at the top of a nest may all hatch out as females, while cooler eggs at the bottom hatch out as males. Incubation is between 50 to 75 days. The young leave the nest between 28 to 35 days after hatching. New hatchlings must often travel a considerable distance to reach suitable aquatic habitat.

L. Lee Cerny


Quick Look Size: 7-10 inches (17.8-25.4 cm). Habitat: Marshy shorelines of Lake Erie and wet meadows. Distinguishing Feature: Bright yellow throat and chin.


Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

The eastern box turtle lives mostly in the forest where it may be seen traveling to a forested vernal pool. These long-living reptiles have few offspring per year. This, in addition to threats to their habitat, makes them a Species of Concern in Ohio.

D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

The eastern box turtle’s shell is highly domed and 4.5 to 6 inches long. The male’s plastron has a distinctive concave portion. Males have orange-red eyes while females have brown.

Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta picta)


At the first sign of perceived danger they will dart into the water. Painted turtles eat plants, earthworms, insects, leeches, snails, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, fish, and carrion.

D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

The eastern painted turtle has bright yellow lines on each side of the head. The underside of the carapace is yellow. This turtle species can be easily found basking in the sun on logs poking out of the water. They are very common in Ohio and the shell length can be up to 8 inches.

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Snapping turtles eat invertebrates, carrion, aquatic plants, fish, birds, and small mammals. Peak breeding occurs from April to November with up to 83 offspring.

Except for softshell turtles, the sex of all species of Ohio turtles depends on the temperature at which the eggs develop. For instance, eggs that develop at 77 degrees F will be male, while eggs that develop at much higher or lower temperatures will be female. In the wild, warmer eggs at the top of a nest may all hatch as females, while cooler eggs at the bottom hatch as males.

Kent Bekker

The snapping turtle is Ohio’s largest turtle, up to 35 lbs and more than 14 inches long. Their shell has three rows of keels that serrate toward the back; their habitat is fresh water with muddy bottoms and abundant vegetation.

Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) Spotted turtles are less than six inches long with spots on their shells. The plaston is yellowishtan with dark markings. Spotted turtles prefer the sluggish waters of ditches, small streams, marshes, and pond edges. These turtles eat snails, worms, spiders, and plants. They often travel long distances, which can be dangerous as they cross roads.

diameter, with her hind legs and feet, then begins to lay three to four eggs. The female covers the eggs, as most turtles do, but also smooths the dirt by dragging her body over the ground.

Peak breeding time is early spring. Digging typically begins in the evening. The female digs the nest, measuring 2 inches deep and 2 inches in

Sexual maturity is reached in 8 to 10 years. Most spotted turtles live for at least 25 years; some can live to 50.

Kent Bekker

In about eleven weeks, the 1-inch hatchlings emerge and head for wet, grassy areas in search of food and shelter.



D. R. Celebrezze


Six-spotted fishing spider 65



Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Arthropoda Class: Arachnida Order: Aranease Dark Fishing Spider Family: Pisauridae Six-spotted Fishing Spider Family: Pisauridae Thin-legged Wolf Spider Family: Lycosidae


Dark Fishing Spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) These North American spiders are all “wandering” spiders, stalking their prey rather than snaring it in webs. The members of the genus Dolomedes are the “fishing spiders.” Unlike wolf spiders, which they resemble in their giant size, fishing spiders typically live near water. They run freely over water in pursuit of prey, including small fish and aquatic insects. When frightened, they may dive beneath the surface.

Individual sacs have been known to contain nearly 1,400 eggs. Shortly before the eggs hatch, the female attaches the sac to vegetation, builds a nursery web around it, and stands guard nearby. The young live in the nursery web for some time after hatching. It is likely that the dark fishing spider requires more than one season to mature, at least in the northern parts of its range. D. R. Celebrezze


Dark fishing spiders are opportunistic, generalist feeders, and they have even been known to consume slugs despite their sticky mucus.

Quick Look

Copulation ends with the female killing the male spider. The large egg sac of D. tenebrosus, measuring up to 1.4 cm in diameter, is spherical, and it is held in place under the female’s body by her chelicerae (a pair of fang-like appendages near the mouth) and pedipalps (another pair of appendages behind the chelicerae).

D. R. Celebrezze


Size: Can be more than 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, including legs. Habitat: Swamp, pond, and lake margins. Distribution: This spider is found throughout Ohio. Distinguishing Feature: Three conspicuous black W-shaped marks on abdomen.


Quick Look Size: Up to 2.5 inches (6.4 cm), including leg span. Habitat: Slow flowing streams or ponds. Distribution: This spider is found throughout Ohio. Distinguishing Feature: Silvery-white stripes down the body; twelve white spots.




The six-spotted fishing spider is one of the few animals that can “walk” on water. They actually have several ways of moving on, or underneath, the surface, including walking/running, rowing, gliding, and diving. Six-spotted fishing spiders can walk underwater as they climb down a plant leaf or stem below the surface.

The female sometimes carries the egg sac across open water and holds or stays close to the sac until most spiderlings have dispersed. Egg sacs are produced June to September, and occasionally in April.

To dive, this fishing spider traps a bubble of air in its legs so it can breathe underwater. Sixspotted fishing spiders can stay underwater for more than thirty minutes.

Females are known to eat the male after mating. Predators include large frogs, fish, and birds.

Six-spotted fishing spiders hunt on land, on the water’s surface, and below the water line. Their meals consist of insects and small amphibians.

D. R. Celebrezze

D. R. Celebrezze

Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton)

Thin-legged Wolf Spider (Pardosa milvina)

They do not spin webs, but are ambush predators, waiting motionless for prey to pass by. Wolf spiders eat grasshoppers, ants, other spiders, and other insects.

They reproduce in spring and summer. The female will carry the egg case with her spinnerets (while a similar group, nursery spiders, carry the case with their fangs). The young hatch and will climb on the female’s back for about a week. The thin-legged wolf spider has a body length of about 1 inch (23.5 cm).

To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, An eternity in an hour.

D. R. Celebrezze

This brown, gray, and black spider inhabits forests, fields, and wet areas. Because of their adaptability, wolf spiders are found throughout Ohio.

Quick Look Size: About 1 inch (23.5 cm), including leg span Habitat: Forests, fields, and wet areas. Distinguishing Feature: Legs are long and thin with long spines. Distribution: This spider is found throughout Ohio.

William Blake 69


Macroinvertebrates Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

L. Lee Cerny

Rachel Carson

Fairy shrimp 71

Macro Invertebrates


Family: Cambaridae)

The digger crayfish appears to be an obligate burrower, usually fabricating mud ‘chimneys’ above an underground burrow in wetland habitats. Burrows may be found in moist clay among rooted semi-aquatic plants and grasses, and also in relatively hard, dry ground where the water table is far below the surface and the vegetation primarily non-wetland. The core range for this species is the Mississippi drainage basin, as well as a large portion of the Atlantic coastal plain. It is uncommon to find populations of crayfish scattered over a wide geographic area. They are restricted to a habitat that occurs as isolated patches, usually in the midst of extensive agricultural and even urban areas. The species needs primarily clay soils in order to burrow and build shelters. DEVIL CRAYFISH (Cambarus diogenes) The devil crayfish also appears to be an obligate burrower, constructing burrows in coastal wetlands, vernal pools, mudflats, wet meadows, and marshes. The burrows are usually capped with mud chimneys, but these may not be present where the ground is very soft and moist.

Their burrows are generally shallower than those of digger crayfish. The chimneys may be quite high (up to 5.85 in/15 cm.) and the diameter of the burrows may be very large depending upon the size of the occupant. Devil crayfish can take oxygen from the air by exposing gills to the air-water interface or crawling into chimneys and/or tunnels above the water table. They can also survive in air for prolonged periods as long as its gills are covered by a thin film of moisture. Although they live in similar habitats, the devil crayfish has not been found with digger crayfish.

Dick Todd Photography

DIGGER CRAYFISH (Fallicambarus fodiens)

Adult digger crayfish

The range of this species overlaps areas of intense agricultural and recreational activity and, as in the case of the digger crayfish, its habitat is likely under threat because of wetland destruction and alteration, and insecticide use.

MAD Scientist & Associates

Crayfish (Order: Decapoda

All of the native crayfish species in North America are in need of conservation. Adult digger crayfish with eggs


L. Lee Cerny

Fairy Shrimp (Class: Branchiopoda

Order: Anostraca)



Fairy shrimp are beautiful animals (up to 1.5 inches long) that may appear “like magic” in vernal pools.

To reproduce, the male will grab the female with his claspers and the two swim around for several days. Hours after copulation, which can take a few minutes, the male dies.

Fairy shrimp are among the most developed invertebrates. They have eleven pairs of legs, a pair of stalked eyes, and a strong tendency to move toward light. They swim upside down and can remain in the same position, move gracefully, or dart about in the water. Males have long claspers on their heads, while females have a brood pouch in which the cysts are carried.

Male (top) and female (bottom)

L. Lee Cerny

They are a mid-level predator feeding on algae, protozoa, rotifers, and detritus. They are preyed upon by waterfowl and diving water beetles.


Fairy shrimp can appear under the ice in some areas and usually die out when the water reaches 60 degrees F. Depending upon the conditions, fairy shrimp can live out their life cycle in as little as 16 days.

The female has a brood sac that can contain anywhere from 10 to 150 cysts. Cysts are fully developed embryos enclosed in a hard, spongy shell. After several days, the cysts will be released and fall to the pool floor. Given certain conditions, only 3% of all cysts will hatch. This evolutionary survival mechanism ensures that not all cysts are hatched and die in unfavorable conditions. The cysts can survive ingestion by animals and can be blown by wind to other areas. Another survival mechanism is the two types of eggs laid by fairy shrimp. There is a “summer” cyst, which has a softer shell, and a “winter” cyst, with a harder shell. In laboratory settings, cysts have been viable after being exposed to temperatures as high as 210 degrees F and as low as -526 degrees F.


There are several species of fairy shrimp in Ohio including Eubranchipus bundyi, E. holmani, and E. neglectus.

Thom Ruf

The young nauplius (first larval stage) periodically sheds its exoskeleton to grow. Eventually it increases from three pairs of legs to eleven. A report of brine shrimp (a fairy shrimp cousin) from the Great Salt Lake found viable cysts in a core sample dated 10,000 years ago.

Fairy shrimp larvae develop in stages by molting. Hatching and early development may begin beneath an ice-covered pond.


Predaceous Diving Beetles (Order: Coleoptera

Family: Dytiscidae)

Dozens of predaceous diving beetle species can be found in vernal pools. They range in size from 0.1 to 1.75 inches in body length.

Adults (above and below)

L. Lee Cerny

Some species of predaceous diving beetles remain in the vernal pool year round, overwintering in the dry basin.


Dick Todd Photography

The beetles’ bodies are usually smooth and oval. Their legs have hair that help propel them through the water and the two back legs move in unison when swimming. They carry a bubble of air under their outer wings.

Larvae (above and below)

Alan Tomko

Alan Tomko

Some species spend most of their time on the substrate of the vernal pool. Both larvae and adults hunt the larvae of a variety of animals.

Amphibious Snails (Phylum: Mollusca

Amphipod (Class: Malacostraca There are approximately 50 freshwater species of amphipods known in the U.S. This group of invertebrates (also known as Scuds) does not have a carapace and resemble shrimp in appearance. They are pale green, pink, or gray with a body length ranging from 1 to 2 cm in length. The head is fused to either the first or second thoracic segment and the eyes are sessile (attached directly by a broad base).

These snails burrow into the substrate of the pool and remain there until the following wet season. While they breathe air, they can also remain submerged for long periods of time.

Amphibious snails feed on leaf litter, decaying vegetation, and algae. They are preyed upon by waterfowl, turtles, invertebrates, frogs, and salamanders.

Order: Amphipoda) Amphipods consume detritus and some decomposing animals. They are less able to withstand the dry phase of the vernal pool. Amphipods are normally found in permanent standing water (ponds, lakes, etc.) and flowing water systems (rivers, streams, etc.). They can be found among the aquatic vegetation and may be found in vernal pools after flooding events.

MAD Scientist & Associates

Many species of amphibious snails are found in vernal pools. Their shell protects them from predators as well as the dry periods of the pool.

Class: Gastropoda)


Aquatic Worm

(Phylum: Annelida Class: Oligochaeta)

They have the ability to form a cocoon of mucus to survive dry conditions.

Dick Todd Photography

Aquatic worms are relatively small (1.5 inches) but can be found in great masses. They break down leaf litter.

D. R. Celebrezze

Backswimmer (Order: Hemiptera


Family: Notonectidae)

Backswimmers can be up to 0.6 inches in length and are most often found resting just below the water surface. They get their name because they propel through the water upside down. They use their hairy oar-like hind legs to move through the water.

Backswimmer nymphs can be identified by their white dorsal side.

These invertebrates store air in tiny pockets at the end of their abdomen. This allows them to stay submerged for up to six hours.

Some backswimmers may use vernal pools as a feeding ground but breed elsewhere. Near the end of the vernal pool draw-down period, backswimmers and water boatman can be abundant.

Adult backswimmers have black and yellow markings and red eyes.

Adults use their piercing beaks when hunting other insects, snails, and crustaceans. If handled, they may bite.

Order: Trichoptera)

The most distinguishing feature of caddisflies are the structures they build out of a variety of materials. These include organic material such as pieces of vegetation or sticks, as well as inorganic materials such as sand or bits of shell. The materials used vary between species.

Caddisflies have a head, thorax, and abdomen. The eyes are located on the anterior portion of the head with three pairs of thoracic legs and either a single or branched set of gills located on the abdomen. Caddisflies occupying vernal pools are associated either with the detritus at the bottom of pools or among the vegetation representing three trophic levels: detrivores; herbivores; and predators feeding on smaller invertebrates.

Chironomid Midge (Order: Diptera Chironomid midges are very common in vernal pools. This species are major prey items for many predators and can survive in pools that have very little dissolved oxygen. Chironomid midges can be clear to whitish or often bright red from a hemoglobin-like pigment. They generally have a slightly curved, inchwormlike appearance with a pair of small prolegs

L. Lee Cerny

There are more than 1,340 known species of caddisfly in North America. Caddisflies spend most of their life cycle in moving water such as streams, creeks, and rivers. However, there are a number of genera within three families (Polycentropodidae, Phryganeidae and Limnephilae) that do inhabit vernal pools.

Family: Chironomidae)

behind the head, and another pair at the end of the abdomen. Midge larvae, 0.1 to 0.8 inches long, may eat detritus or prey on smaller creatures. The pupae has a very large head with two breathing siphons at the top that resemble horns. They molt into mosquito-like insects.

Leo Kenney

Caddisfly (Class: Insecta


L. Lee Cerny

Clam Shrimp (Class: Branchiopoda

L. Lee Cerny

Copepod (Phylum: Crustacea


Order: Laevicaudata)

These small (0.3 inch) crustaceans are transparent orange in color and have a clam-like shell that protects their body. They are fast swimmers with a smooth rowing motion using their 10 to 32 pairs of legs. They can be very common in some vernal pools.

algae by straining the water with their many limbs. The adult females shed drought- and temperature-resistant eggs when they molt. The adults generally die when the pools dry up. Clam shrimp become sexually mature within days of hatching from the eggs.

Clam shrimp tend to live near the bottom of the pool, eating detritus, rotifers, protozoa, and

Caddisfly larvae and dytiscid beetle larvae are the main predators of clam shrimp.

Class: Copepoda) There are more than 5,500 known species of copepod. Their bodies are segmented and cylindrical in shape with a single anterior eye. Copepods have five pairs of appendages, which are also segmented, used for swimming.

Most species have translucent bodies and are either detrivores, herbivores, or carnivores with a body length between less than 0.05 to 0.2 cm. Food items include detritus, algae, bacteria, phytoplankton, pollens, and other invertebrates.

There are three types of copepods: 1) calanoids, whose primary characteristics are a long slender body, long antennae, and a single egg sac; 2) cyclopoids, which have a more rounded body shape, shorter antennae, and two egg sacs; and 3) harpactoids, with a highly cylindrical body shape, short antennae, and two egg sacs.

Only a few species of calanoids live in ponds and are found within the water column. Cyclopoids and harpactoids are primarily associated with substrates in the littoral zones. Copepods make up a large proportion of the biomass in freshwater ecosystems and are prey for macroinvertebrates as well as many vertebrate species.

Family: Haliplidae)

These beetles tend to be found crawling on submerged vegetation. They are tiny (typically less than 0.25 inches) and patterned or spotted with yellow/orange and black. The outer wings often contain tiny holes, giving a pin-pricked appearance.

hind legs), which is a distinctive feature of this beetle group. This bubble combines with the bubble under the wings and is used as a reserve air supply and hydrostatic organ, allowing the beetle to float, rather than swim, to the surface to replenish.

Like many aquatic beetles, adults breathe by replenishing the air supply beneath the elytra (hard outer wings) with surface air. Crawling water beetles also store air under the expanded coxal plate (extended and flattened segment of

Larvae are often covered in long filaments and move slowly, making it difficult to distinguish them from pond debris. Both larvae and adults are herbivorous, typically feeding on filamentous algae.

Genus: Daphnia)

There are approximately 150 known species of daphnia (also known as water fleas). This group of invertebrates is characterized by a carapace that covers the body, with the exception of the head, which is fused to the thorax, and a body length ranging from .02 to 0.5 cm in length. Their carapace is nearly translucent and they have a pair of compound eyes. There is a ventral gap in the carapace allowing for five or six pairs of legs (depending upon species),

and their antennae are used for propulsion. Individuals filter minute particles including detritus, zooplankton, and algae. In turn, daphnia are prey items for a number of aquatic invertebrate species as well as larval salamanders. Feeding occurs within the water column as well as among detritus deposited along the pond bottom. Several species may occupy a single vernal pool, and having varying life cycles, can serve as prey for long periods of time.

L. Lee Cerny

Daphnia (Family: Daphniidae

MAD Scientist & Associates

Crawling Water Beetle (Order: Coleoptera


Fingernail Clam (Phylum: Mollusca These very small clams, less than 0.5 inches wide, tend to be cream to light brown in color with occasional bands of color. The shells are thin and fragile. A muscular foot enables them to move around the bottom of a vernal pool.

hermaphroditic parents before being expelled into the water. Lifespan is often two to three years. These clams typically burrow into the substrate or leaf litter and become dormant during dry periods. Fingernail clams are facultative vernal pool breeders. Their shells can be found in vernal pools. Leo Kenney

Fingernail clams eat detritus that they filter out of the water. Young clams are brooded inside the

Class: Bivalvia)

Family: Corydalidae)

Fishfly larvae can be identified by their shiny, dark head and pinching mandibles. They have eight paired, lateral gills and a pair of elongated tubular gills on the end of the abdomen. The female deposits her eggs on vegetation, woody debris, and rocks overhanging the pool


bottom. In the late stage of larval development they can be up to 1.5 inches in length. The life history details of the genus Chauliodes (fishflies) in vernal pools is unknown at this time. Leo Kenney

Fishfly (Order: Megaloptera

Family: Belostomatidae)

Giant water bugs have an oval and flattened beetle-like shape, are brownish to greenish with protruding eyes, and can be up to 2.5 inches long. Retractable strap-like siphons at the rear let them breathe while remaining motionless. Sometimes called “toe-biters,” giant water bugs are top predators in vernal pools. They hang upside down, using their large forelimbs to capture passing prey. Poisonous salivary enzymes are then injected into the prey through their hypodermic-like mouthparts. They will take

Horsehair Worm (Phylum: Nematomorpha

Depending on the species, eggs may be laid above the water in vegetation or cemented on the male’s back who then broods them. These insects should be handled with care as they can deliver a painful bite. Giant water bug with water mites attached

Order: Gordioida)

Horsehair worms get their name from a false belief that they are the hairs from the mane or tail of a horse. In fact, these parasites enter adulthood by bursting out of the host’s body cavity once that host is near water. Adults can be as long as three feet, with a coloring of brown, black, or yellow. Jim McCormac

tadpoles, frogs, and fish several times their size.

Carrie Elvey

Giant Water Bug (Order: Hemiptera

Harmless to humans, this worm can lay thousands or even millions of eggs on the vegetation in a

vernal pool. These eggs can withstand drying when the pool dries up. The vegetation (along with the eggs) are ingested by insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, katydids, etc., and the egg’s outer shell melts away. The juveniles work their way through the gut of the animal and absorb the nutrients.


Isopod (Class: Malacostraca

Order: Isopoda)

Alan Tomko

Isopods are crustaceans that are less than 0.7 inches in length and have seven pairs of legs. Their brown and gray coloring helps them blend in with the vernal pool floor. They are flat with long antenna. They are herbivores and detrivores.


“Iso” is from the Greek meaning “same” and “pod” means “foot.” Records date isopods back 300 million years.

Some isopod females release the fertilized eggs

Class: Hirundinae)

MAD Scientist & Associates

Leech (Phylum: Annelida

Isopods break down plant and animal matter into smaller pieces that are colonized by algae, which provide a food source for tadpoles.

into their brood pouch until they mature. Isopods cannot survive the drying of the vernal pool and are usually associated with permanent water or saturated sediment.

Leeches are the things of nightmares, at least in popular culture. In real life, leeches play a vital role in vernal pools.

Coloration of leeches varies from earth tones to bright colors. Leech eggs and cocoons are drought resistant.

They have 34 body segments with anywhere from 3 to16 annuli in each segment. This may give the appearance that the leech is much more segmented than it actually is.

Many leeches feed on dead or dying animals, but some are predatory. Predatory leeches mainly feed on amphibian eggs and small invertebrates.

Order: Ephemeroptera) Mayfly nymphs are herbivores and detrivores. They are an indicator of good water quality and are found in rivers, lakes, ponds, and some vernal pools.

Family: Culcidiae)

Mosquitoes are important prey for salamanders, frogs, birds, snakes, damselflies, dragonflies, and many other organisms. Only the female adult feeds on blood and this is once per brood. Mosquitoes have four phases: egg, larval (inset), pupa, and adult (large photo). The eggs are deposited in standing water on the surface and can develop in as little as a week. In the larval stage (0.3 to 0.5 inch), mosquitoes hang upside down in the water column with air siphons

breaking the water surface. In some pools there can be millions of these larvae. The pupa are sometimes known as “tumblers” because of their movement in the water column. The larva and pupa feed on tiny organisms and detritus. West Nile virus is carried only by some mosquito species, most of which prefer more casual water rather than vernal pools. The majority of mosquito species do not carry West Nile.

MAD Scientist & Assoc.

Mosquito (Order: Diptera

Alan Tomko

Mayflies emerge as adults at roughly the same time in an area. Adults (far right) do not have mouthparts and only live a few days. Depending on the population, thousands of mayflies may emerge at one time.

David R. Celebrezze

There are more than 2,000 species of mayfly in the world. Mayfly larvae are small (measuring 0.25 to 0.75 inch) and have three “tails,” which are caudal filaments. The larvae vibrate their gills to increase the amount of water moving over them; these gills can also be used for locomotion.

Jim McCormac

Mayfly (Class: Insecta


Ostracod (Phylum: Crustacea

Class: Ostracoda)

Leo Kenney

Ostracods are the oldest known microfauna. More than 400 species, also known as seed and mussel shrimp, are found in North America. They have a bivalved shape carapace that envelopes their body with a single anterior eye. The shell is calcareous in nature and divided into two parts: an outer lamella and a duplicature. There is a constriction in the mid-region separating the head from the thorax (ostracods do not have an abdomen) with a body length ranging from 0.2 to 0.3 cm. In the head region there are four pairs of appendages (two of which

Dick Todd Photography

Phantom Midge (Order: Diptera


are antennae) that are used for walking, feeding, and swimming. The thorax has an additional three appendages used for crawling, feeding, and cleaning. Ostracods are divided into swimmers and nonswimmers, and are found nearly exclusively in the benthos. They are found in most aquatic habitats occupying two trophic levels, detrivores and herbivores consuming fine particulate organic matter primarily at the interface of water and sediments. Ostracods are prey for a number of macroinvertebrates found in vernal pools.

Family: Chaoboridae)

The predatory larvae of the phantom midge are easy to overlook. These nearly transparent larvae float motionless in the water column, visible only when they move. Light may also reflect off the two air sacs (or hydrostatic organs) One in the thorax and one in the abdomen regulate the larvae’s buoyancy. Mature phantom midge larvae utilize this buoyancy to migrate through the water column,

typically sprawling in bottom sediments during the day and floating near the surface to hunt at night. They have specially modified prehensile antennae that are used to capture prey, including small insects such as mosquito larvae, daphnia, and other invertebrates. They are important predators in vernal pools, as well as a food source for salamander larvae. The non-biting adults (less than 1 inch long) emerge synchronously in late spring and early summer.

These soft, cigar-shaped, unsegmented flat worms are 0.2 to 1.2 inches long with two light-sensitive eyespots. Their color varies from transparent to brown or bright green. Mottling, spots, and stripes are possible. The shape of the head may be triangular, rounded, or squared off. Planaria move smoothly on many cilia. Most species live in the detritus of a vernal pool. When scooped up, they often roll up in a ball.

Some species survive droughts by developing a cyst around themselves. Hermaphroditic overall, reproduction may be by eggs, regeneration, or development of a “bud” which becomes a new planaria. The digestive tract has one opening at the end of a tube located in the middle of the body that can be extended half a body length. Planaria are scavengers and predators.

Order: Collembola)

Springtails are tiny wingless arthropods less than 0.2 inch long. Springtail eggs are spherical. Most species have a prong-like mechanism called a furcula located on their stomach that, when released, can propel them as far as twelve inches, giving the appearance of jumping.

Also known as “snow fleas,” most species live on land. Springtails are not aquatic, but instead are found in large numbers in damp habitats such as the surface of vernal pools, leaf litter, or on remaining patches of snow. Springtails eat algae, detritus, and organic material. They do not bite humans.

Leo Kenney

Springtails (Class: Insecta

Class: Turbellaria)

Dick Todd Photography

Planaria (Phylum: Platyhelminthes


Water Boatman (Order: Hemiptera

Alan Tomko

A water boatman can grow up to 0.5 inches in length and have an elongated body. It can propel itself using the hind legs, which have oar-like paddles on the ends. They can easily be confused with backswimmers, but a water boatman does not swim upside down. Also, a water boatman does not bite whereas backswimmers do. Like backswimmers, water boatmen fly in from other areas to populate the vernal pool.

L Lee Cerny

Water Mites (Class: Hydrachinidia


Family: Corixidae) A water boatman has yellow and black tiger dorsal stripes and a modified beak that allows for some chewing. The nymphs are similar in appearance to adults but lack the wings and will molt five times. The males make sound by rubbing their front legs against their head. Water boatmen feed on algae and other plant matter. They frequent the surface of the pool to trap air on their ventral side.

Order: Acariformes)

Water mites comprise an incredibly diverse, complex, and important part of aquatic systems. Their small (typically less than 0.25 inches) round or egg-shaped bodies are often bright hues of red, green, or yellow, but may also be tan or brown. Specific identification usually requires the use of a microscope. Most water mites are awkward swimmers, tending to sink when they are not moving their legs. The life cycle is particularly complicated and diverse. Eggs are deposited on vegetation where they hatch in several weeks. The larvae are

parasitic on aquatic insets, and many require specific hosts as well as specific locations on a given host (some attach to the abdomen, others the wings). Common hosts include damselflies, dragonflies, giant water bugs, and various beetles. The larvae continue through three alternately active and inactive nymphal stages before metamorphosing as adults. Adults are typically predaceous on Dipteran larvae, aquatic earthworms, and zooplankton; others may feed on carrion, plant detritus, or are parasitic.

Water Scavenger Beetle (Order: Coleoptera

Adults are general feeders or feed on decaying organic matter but a few are predaceous. Most larvae are predaceous, though may feed on plants.

Water Scorpion (Order: Hemiptera The water scorpion is a predator in the vernal pool. It has six legs and can be as long as 2.5 inches. The front two legs are used for catching prey. Water scorpions are not good swimmers but hide in aquatic vegetation for hours waiting for small invertebrates such as mayfly nymphs, stonefly nymphs, and others to come close. Then the water scorpion will straighten its hind legs to propel itself forward and seize the prey with its

Carrie Elvey

These beetles surface to trap air under the wing covers and “row” by alternating the hind legs. They range in size up to 1.5 inches (40 mm). Their jaws are usually toothed.

Family: Nepidae)

forelimbs. The mouth is a beak, which they use to pierce their prey and suck out the insides. The water scorpion’s tail is two straight filaments pressed against one another. It uses these filaments to obtain air. This insect survives winter by staying in deep ponds, lakes, or rivers. Thus, it may not be abundant in vernal pools. While water scorpions have arms that act the same way as a scorpion’s pincers, they are not true scorpions.

Eileen Sawyer

Adult water scavenger beetles have short, clubbed antennae that are sometimes hidden beneath the head. Their mouthparts are elongated and hairlike and may be mistaken for antennae. Most species have a keel or ridge between the legs that extends backward into a point. The hind legs have long hairs that aid in swimming. Their bodies are usually not as flat as predaceous diving beetles with which they can be confused.

Family: Hydrophilidae)


Water Strider (Order: Hemiptera

Family: Gerridae)

The water strider is an insect that walks on the surface of the water. They have tufts of small hairs at the end of each leg that prevents them from falling below the water line. Water striders hunt adult mosquitoes and other insects that rest on the water. After capturing prey, they suck out the insides of the victim. Water striders are brownish gray and/or black and grow to 0.5 inches in length. They are considered

Whirligig Beetle (Order: Coleoptera

Water striders can be found in vernal pools from early spring until the pool dries. They are also know as “pond skaters” and “Jesus bugs.”

Family: Gyrindae)

Adult whirligig beetles are oval shaped and swim in schools at the surface of the water. They range in size from 0.3 to 3.5 cm in length. When alarmed, these beetles swim in circles as well as dive into the water. They have specialized eyes that allow them to see above and below the water surface. This feature helps them avoid predation.


the fastest water walker on the planet, able to move four feet, eleven inches in one second. When threatened by predators they can dive into the water and re-surface when the danger has passed. They also make ripples on the water surface to attract mates.

Whirligig beetles are predators as well as scavengers that feed on insects trapped on the water.

Herbaceous Plants, Shrubs & Trees

To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.

Jim McCormac

Helen Keller

Sensitive fern Plants



Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) A large fern of acidic wetland habitat, the cinnamon fern is one of the oldest known fern species, with fossil evidence indicating a continuous presence in North America for more than 70 million years. Individuals can grow upwards of five feet in height, forming impressive circular clumps in and around vernal pools, mostly in the areas of Ohio dominated by sandstone bedrock. Older cinnamon ferns can form tussocks within a wetland, providing habitat for an array of vernal pool species, including the wood frog.

are slightly shorter than the surrounding sterile fronds and mature in the early summer. Late in the summer, the fertile fronds completely wither away, and the cinnamon fern is difficult to distinguish from the closely-related interrupted fern. The best characteristic to use for separating these species is the presence of “hairy armpits” in the cinnamon fern, which refers to tufts of rusty or tan woolly hair where the pinnules attach to the rachis (main stem). C of C: 6

Close-up of mature sporangia Dr. Bob Klips

The separate fertile fronds give this species its common name, as the sporangia clusters turn a beautiful cinnamon color when they mature in the center of the plant. These fertile fronds

Dr. Bob Klips

The unfurling fronds, called “fiddleheads” or “crosiers,” are particularly attractive in this species, as they are covered densely with white, woolly hairs that gradually turn rusty brown as the frond expands. The erect or slightly arching mature sterile fronds are cut into twenty or more pairs of pinnae that become progressively smaller towards the top. Each of these pinnae is further dissected into a large number of pinnules.

Emerging plant 93

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) The aptly-named royal fern is a truly majestic species, growing up to six feet high in a variety of acidic wetland habitats throughout Ohio. As with the closely-related cinnamon fern, this species can form tussocks over time as each year’s growth builds up from the previous year’s fibrous root systems.

Dr. Bob Klips

The leathery, sterile fronds of this species are highly dissected, with each leaf segment (pinnae) further subdivided into clearly separated subleaflets (pinnules). Each of these pinnules is about 2 inches long. The dissected, compound nature of the royal fern gives it a superficial resemblance to members of the pea family (Fabaceae).


Unlike the cinnamon fern, this species does not have separate fertile fronds, but rather, the sporangia form on fertile pinnules that develop at the tip of the leafy fronds.

When mature, the sporangia are dark green, but once released via wind dispersal, these fertile pinnules turn golden-brown. The royal fern, along with the two other members of this genus that occur in Ohio (the interrupted and cinnamon ferns) have characteristic stem armor that forms because of the hard, overlapping leaf bases that develop along the stem. At the time of earliest known dinosaurs (about 210 million years ago) several fern species in this ancient taxonomic group (Osmundales) had the ability to become trees because of this distinctive adaptation. C of C: 7

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

Unlike many fern species, the sensitive fern does not form circular clumps, but rather spreads vegetatively with forking rhizomes to form irregularly-shaped colonies, which are occasionally quite dense.

(reproductive structure) that resemble beads at the top of the stalk. The fertile fronds are formed from mid-summer to October during normal years. The sterile fronds of the sensitive fern quickly turn brown and wither following the first exposure to frost, which is how this species gets its name. From late fall through the winter, the only evidence of its presence in a wetland is the persistent fertile fronds with their distinctive “beads-on-a-stick” appearance. C of C: 2

The separate fertile fronds are very different in this species, as the sporangia are arranged in a large number of hard, circular, brown sori

Dr. Bob Klips

This fern exhibits frond “dimorphism,” which means that it has both fertile (containing sporangia) and sterile fronds. The sterile frond is roughly triangular, usually about 12 to 24 inches long, with approximately 8 to 12 pairs of leaf segments (pinnae) arranged on opposite sides along the leaf stalk. The veins of these frond pinnae have a distinctive netted pattern. Larger plants can also have strong indentations at the margin of the pinnae.

Dr. Bob Klips

The sensitive fern is a common fern found throughout Ohio in wet places. This species can occur in dense colonies from full sun to partial shade, as long as the soil conditions remain moist for most of the growing season. It is frequently found within forested wetland habitat at the periphery of vernal pools.


Fertile fronds

Sterile fronds 95

Brian Gara

Spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) C of C: 5

Crested wood fern (Dryopteris cristata) C of C: 8


John Mack

Brian Gara

Jim McCormac

Other Ferns

Spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana) C of C: 5

Fowl Manna Grass (Glyceria striata)

At full flower in June and July, it is easy to identify this 4-foot high plant. Each “stalk” will have perhaps a dozen or more about 0.5 cm wide blades that are about the same width for their

entire length, rather than tapered. They tend to stick out horizontally from the stem rather than rising vertically. Also, they are evenly and alternating spaced, giving the plant a somewhat (alternating) ladder-like appearance.

MAD Scientist & Associates

Fowl manna grass, a perennial, is among the most common wetland grasses. It is found in shady wet woods, swampy areas, and near the edges of vernal pools. Encountering this grass during dry times of the year indicates that the site is a wetland.


Its name indicates that ducks and other waterfowl will feed on the seeds; they may also be eaten by geese, muskrats, and beaver. C of C: 2

Sweet Woodreed (Cinna arundinacea)

Sweet woodreed is 3 to 5 feet tall with alternate leaves, consisting of individual or small tufts of erect culms. The culms are light green or light blue-green, terete, and hairless. The nodes of the

culms are slightly swollen, green, and glabrous. The leaf blades are up to 12 inches long and 0.5 inches across; they are grayish green or dull blue, hairless, and may droop toward the tips. The leaf sheaths are similar in color to the blades, hairless, and veined. At the junction of blade and sheath, each ligule (thin outgrowth at the junction of leaf and leafstalk) has a conspicuous papery membrane. Sweet woodreed flowers from late summer through early to mid autumn. C of C: 4


Sweet woodreed is a perennial grass that grows throughout most of the eastern United States north to southeastern Canada. It is common in forested wetlands and swamps, depressional wetlands, riparian areas, and floodplains. It’s less frequent in emergent marshes and wet meadows.



John Katko

Sedges comprise one of the most important plant groups found in and near vernal pools, and one of the most difficult to identify. There are about 150 species of native sedges in Ohio (about a third of them–mostly inhabiting specialized habitats–are listed as rare or endangered) and most of them are wetland plants.

Bromelike sedge (above and below)

Of the many sedges that inhabit vernal pools, a few of the more common ones (besides those discussed below, which are among the more easily identified sedges) are Carex tribuloides,

C. lupulina, C. seorsa, C. comosa, C. squarrosa, C. intumescens, C. stipata, C. prasina, C. vulpinoidea, C. interior, and C. lacustris.

John Katko

Some of these are also found in non-vernal pool habitats. All these are at least facultative wetland plants (usually found in wetlands), and many are obligate (always found in wetlands).


Most sedges have triangular stems (“sedges have edges”); their leaves diverge at three angles (three-ranked and best seen from above a plant that has been pulled tight) and, viewed on end (break one in half), often have a shallow M or W shape. The stem that bears the reproductive structures is called a culm.

Many culms have obvious leaves near their bases or along their lengths; some appear to be more or less bladeless. The male and female flowers are borne separately but on the same culm in structures called spikes. Leaflike structures that arise at the bottoms of the spikes are technically called bracts. Spikes may grow directly along the culm (sessile), or may have stems called peduncles. Sometimes the male (staminate) flowers appear at the top (androgynous) or bottom (gynecandrous) of the female (pistillate) spikes; sometimes they are borne on separate spikes, normally at the tips (terminal) of the entire group of spikes (inflorescence). The male flowers consist of nothing more than a small (more than 0.2 cm) green or brownish staminate scale from above that protrude three tiny stamens that bear the pollen. The pistillate flowers of sedges have a distinct structure called a perigynium–a (usually) green envelope that surrounds the one-seeded fruit called an achene. Some perigynia are flat and scale-like; some are rounded; many are three-angled.

Extending from the tip of the achene is a tiny wiry stem called a style that may stay stubbornly attached to the achene (persistent) or may easily break away (deciduous). At the tip of the style, during full flower (anthesis), are two (for lenticular) or three (for trigonous fruit) threadlike or feathery stigmas (to which the pollen adhere) that protrude from the tip of the perigynium.

MAD Scientist & Associates

Perigynia and scales may have veins running from bottom to top on their surfaces that are termed nerves. Some perigynia are only 2 or 3 mm long; those of Carex grayi are among the largest, at 1.2 to 1.8 cm. The achene within the perigynium may be flat (lenticular) or threecornered (trigonous).

All of these features, as well as others, are important characters in identifying sedges. All the measurements given in this section are approximately in the middle of the range of the size or quantity of a structure. Some vernal pool sedges bloom in early April, with their perigynia falling from the culms by the end of June or July (Carex bromoides). Some only bloom in June and keep their fruiting bodies late into the fall or all winter (Carex grayi). Although often mistaken for grasses or overlooked completely, some sedges in bloom are spectacular when viewed closely. Many impart a lovely variety of textures to our woodlands and marshes with their variety of leaf lengths and widths, and various fruiting configurations. Sedges are important geometric components of vernal pools, providing hatching sites for emerging dragonflies and other insects, cover for amphibian and other larvae, etc. They are grazed by deer and moose and their fruit is eaten by birds. Some fly species are specific to certain sedges in their feeding and reproduction.

Gray’s sedge

MAD Scientist & Associates

Some peprigynia have a narrow beak that extends from the main body of the perigynium. Some beaked perigynia have two teeth (bidentate) at their end. Each perigynium is also subtended by a pistillate scale that may be rounded at the tip, or pointed, and may have a pointed extension called an awn.

Fringed sedge 99

MAD Scientist & Associates

Gray’s Sedge (Carex grayi) The fruited culms of this striking sedge, with its spherical pistillate spikes whose 1.5 cm perigynia radiate in all directions, look like a multi-headed medieval mace. Gray’s sedge flowers in June and the perigynia persist well into fall. It grows typically around edges or in the bed of very shallow vernal pools.

Carex lupulina, a very common vernal pool

sedge, has more perigynia per spike, the perigynia are longer beaked, the spikes are more numerous obviously longer than wide (6 x 3 cm) with all the perigynia pointing more or less upward, and the achenes are more sharply angled and have a style contorted into an open loop near its base. Culms: about 1.5 feet high, stout, leaf-like bracts rising above inflorescence. Leaves: to about 30 cm long, 0.7 cm wide, dull green. Staminate spike: single, terminal, peduncled, 4 cm long, 0.4 cm wide. Pistillate spikes: one or two; globose, 4 cm long/ wide; sessile or short-peduncled; bracts leaf-like,


long; 20 pergynia per spike. Pistillate scales: 0.6 cm long, 0.3 cm wide; bluntly pointed or with short awn; whitish margins with green center. Pergynia: spreading at all angles to form a spiky radial globe; 1.5 cm long, 0.5 cm wide; inflated away from achene; wedge-shaped base (which sometimes has very short stubby hairs, only seen through a hand lens), conic to short bidentate beak; 15 to 20 nerves. Achene: roundly trigonous, globose, 0.4 cm long and 35 cm wide; style persistent, slightly bent. Habitat: vernal pools, swampy woods, especially in floodplains; facultative wetland plant. Note: Two other similar-looking sedges are common in vernal pools. Carex intumescens has usually fewer perigynia per spike (normally twelve or fewer); the perigynia do not point strongly downward and are more rounded at their bottoms than the wedge-shaped perigynia of Carex grayi. C of C: 5

Bromelike Sedge (Carex bromoides)

The bromelike sedge is in full flower by midApril. The perigynia are fully formed by midMay and are dropped around the first of July. This tufted plant commonly delineates the borders of vernal pools long after they have dried, thus are valuable indicators of vernal pools in woods.

Leaves are up to 40 cm in length and 0.2 cm wide. The spikes on the leaves are around four per stem. The dry fruit produced is about 0.16 cm long and 0.075 cm wide. The perigynium is 0.4 cm long (including 0.12 cm bidentate beak), and 0.1 cm wide, flat-convex. The pistillate scales are 0.1 cm wide and reach to the bottom of perigynium beak. C of C: 7

John Katko

The culms (the flower and fruit-bearing stems of sedges and other such plants) are longer than the slender leaves and can be up to 70 cm long.


A magnificent and stately sedge, this cespitose plant reaches 1 meter or more in height. The long culms have several drooping pistillate spikes fringed with long pistillate scale awns. The fringed sedge flowers in May and the ripe perigynia begin to fall in July. These sedges grow in vernal pool beds. Carex crinita is one of the few sedges sold as an ornamental. Culms: to 1.5 m, stout, sharply three-angled with rough edges. Leaves: 3 to 5 per culm, the uppermost extending beyond the inflorescence;

about 1 cm wide. Staminate spikes: 1 to 3, terminal, to 6 cm long, drooping on slender peduncles at maturity, occasionally with a few pistillate flowers at tips. Pistillate spikes: 2 to 6, drooping on slender peduncles; to about 10 cm long. Pistillate scales: with long (to 1 cm) rough awns that are about three times as long as the perigynia; several hundred perigynia per spike. Perigynia: 0.3 cm long, round, brown at maturity. Achenes: lenticuler, 0.16 cm long, often slightly crimped on one side. C of C: 3

Jim McCormac

Fringed Sedge (Carex crinita)


Jim McCormac

MAD Scientist & Associates

Other Sedges

Hop sedge (Carex lupulina)

Brian Gara

C of C: 3

Graceful sedge (Carex gracillima) C of C: 4 102

Stellate (or rose) sedge (Carex rosea) C of C: 3

Hemlock Water Parsnip (Sium suave) Hemlock water parsnip is a native perennial herbaceous species that belongs to the carrot family (Apiaceae) and is found throughout North America (Alaska to Florida, Newfoundland to California). This species is ranked as an Obligate Wetland Species. It is commonly found in swamps, wet meadows, and muddy banks along streams, creeks, and riparian buffers. It flowers from July through September. Individual plants grow between 2 to 6 feet tall.

Herbaceous Dicots

Upper and middle leaves are divided into three to seven pairs of sharply toothed lance-shaped leaflets. The basal leaves are finely divided and fernlike unless covered with water. Some part of the plant may produce a strong aroma. The flowers have five petals, which are usually uneven, and five stamens. The seeds and fruit form below where the petals and stamen originate. C of C: 6

Mad-dog Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Its common name comes from the fact that it was once used to treat rabies, and scutellarin, a compound in the plant, has been shown to have antispasmodic and sedative properties.

This somewhat spindly herb rarely exceeds 2 feet in height. Petioled leaves are opposite, rather coarse and serrate, and pointed at ends, attached to square stem. Tiny blue flowers are in axillary racemes on upper part of the plant. Mad-dog skullcap blooms from early July through fall, nearly to the first frosts. It occupies a wide variety of wet habitats. In vernal pools, it typically grows on wet logs and in saturated soil on the wetland perimeter. C of C: 3

Robert H. Mohlenbrock

Although seldom abundant in any one location, mad-dog skullcap is the most common, wideranging skullcap in Ohio. Specific ecological relationships with animals are not apparent, but this species has a variety of medicinal values attributed to it.


John Katko

Skunk-cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) Skunk-cabbage, a member of the Arum family (with Jack-in-the-Pulpit, calla, and sweet flag) has a specialized flower morphology called a spathe, which is a cowl or hood structure covering the reproductive parts, and, inside, a spadix, which is a club-shaped structure that bears the flowers. The spadix’s metabolism produces heat and the bloom regulates its temperature at about 60 to 70 degrees F, even in sub-freezing temperatures.

Skunk-cabbage grows in low, soggy ground and in forested seeps and springs. During bloom, the leaves are inconspicuous, just beginning to bud as 3-inch cone-shaped masses near the flowers, but by the middle of May they have grown out to resemble a loose cabbage head up to 2 to 3 feet or higher. In June the leaves die back, revealing ripened fruits on the spadix. Skunk-cabbage reaches full bloom in late February to early March. C of C: 7

Yellow Water Buttercup (Ranunculus flabellaris)

Jim McCormac

Part of the buttercup family, this plant is unmistakable, at least when in flower. No other aquatic Ohio plant has this combination of dissected leaves and golden flowers. The only other strictly aquatic buttercup in the state is the white water buttercup (with white flowers).


This buttercup blooms from early spring through early to mid-summer, and it is rather shocking to see its yellow blossoms jutting from deep water. It is often indicative of high-quality habitats.

The yellow water buttercup is scattered and local, and has been documented in roughly 24 of Ohio’s counties. It is most likely to be found in glaciated western and northern regions. This buttercup is strictly aquatic. The leaves, which can be submersed and floating, are alternate and much dissected into thread-like segments. Its bright yellow flowers are held above the water’s surface on thick petioles. C of C: 8

Cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

False nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) C of C: 4

John Katko

Marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris) C of C: 6

Swamp buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus var. nitidus) C of C: 4

Nina Harfmann

MAD Scientist & Associates

C of C: 5

Jim McCormac

Jim McCormac

Other Herbaceous Dicots

Winged monkey-flower

(Mimulus alatus) C of C: 6


Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Jim McCormac

A member of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae), winterberry is a small shrub that occasionally grows to 15 feet. Its alternate leaves are deciduous (lose their leaves seasonally) but rather thick and serrate-margined with prominent veins. Small clusters of whitish flowers form in the leaf axils; fruit are brilliant red and quite showy (bottom photo). Fruiting and flowering specimens should be unmistakable; although sterile plants are sometimes mistaken for buckthorns (genus Rhamnus). Winterberry has persistent dark stipules; buckthorns do not.

Jim McCormac

Winterberry shrubs are found in about 70 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and this species may occur in all of them. But winterberry is often uncommon and local, and in many areas most, if not all, suitable habitat has been destroyed.


Its habitat is mostly soggy sites, marshy ground, wet woods, and sometimes other habitats but always in permanently saturated soils. In vernal pools, winterberry typically grows with other wetland shrubs in partial shade along margins of standing water. Winterberry is one of two native hollies in Ohio, and the only widespread species. It is dioecious– separate male and female plants–so fruit occurs only on female plants. Other hollies in the genus Ilex are evergreen and often used in Christmas decorations. The bright red berries are sought out by a number of species of birds, and winterberry is a valuable source of food for birds and some mammal species. C of C: 6

The common buttonbush is a deciduous wetland shrub found in swamps, floodplains, marshes, bogs, and vernal pools that are submerged for part of the year, and alluvial plains with intermittent flooding. It grows from Nova Scotia to Ontario, south through Florida, and west to the eastern Great Plains. It blooms June through September and sets fruit in September and October. This species is ranked as an Obligate Wetland Species.

This tall shrub or small tree can reach up to 18 feet in height. The branches are usually green when young but turn brown at maturity. The common buttonbush has lanceolate-oblong leaves about 7 inches (18 cm) long and 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide. Tiny, white flowers occur in dense, spherical clusters at branch ends. The fruit are round and contain two-seeded nutlets. C of C: 6


MAD Scientist & Associates

Common Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)

Swamp rose can be found in wet meadows, swamp margins, marshes, river floodplains, bogs, and fens. It occurs frequently along the margins and on hummocks in larger vernal pools where gaps in the canopy allow light to penetrate. The swamp rose is shrubby and heavily armed

with stiff downward curving thorns. The plants sometimes form impenetrable thickets. Leaves are typically comprised of five serrate-margined leaflets, with each leaf subtended by smoothmargined, lobed stipules. The flowers are large, pink, and conspicuously showy. Many species of birds seek cover in swamp rose tangles or build their nests within the thickets. The fruit (rose hips) are an excellent source of vitamin C and are consumed by a number of bird species. C of C: 5

Jim McCormac

This member of the rose family is common throughout Ohio. The swamp rose prefers sunny locales. Plants cease flowering and eventually disappear if the site becomes too shady.


Highbush blueberry

(Vaccinium corymbosum) C of C: 6


Jim McCormac

Nina Harfmann

Other Shrubs

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) C of C: 5

Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) The black ash tree is part of the olive family (Oleaceae). Though it can grow up to 85 feet, the black ash tends to be smaller than other ash trees, and often has a crooked or contorted trunk. Black ashes have been found in about threequarters of Ohio’s counties, most frequently in poorly drained glaciated regions. They are rare or absent in much of unglaciated southeastern Ohio. Ohio is at the southern limits of this northern tree, and it becomes increasingly uncommon moving southward. Occasionally, black ash can dominate a site, but more often it occurs as scattered individual trees growing amongst a variety of other wetland tree species. Like all of Ohio’s ash trees, this species is infested and killed by the introduced emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis.

Trees Black ash has prominently furrowed bark and its seven to eleven leaflets are sessile. The samaras (fruit) are wide and flat. The only other Ohio ash species with flattened wing-like samaras is blue ash, F. quadrangulata, which has conspicuous, four-angled twigs and grows in dry sites. Black ash is also distinctive in that it has sessile leaflets; other wetland ash have leaflets on short petioles. This tree is rarely encountered away from waterlogged sites. It prefers swampy forests where it grows in association with a variety of other wetland trees, including green and pumpkin ash. Black ash seems to prefer peaty or especially mucky soils. In vernal pools, this tree is often found in the wettest soil around the periphery of the pool or in standing water. C of C: 7


Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

Green ash trees that grow in very wet conditions often form prominently buttressed bases. Ash wood is hard and shock-resistant–famously used for baseball bats. Invasion of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), a non-native beetle that kills ash, has destroyed many populations of this species and continues to spread. Destruction of ash in vernal pool habitats could be detrimental as the resultant loss of shade in summer may adversely impact other flora and fauna. This tree can grow up to 100 feet. The trunks are typically straight and column-like, with prominent uniform ridges. Leaves are pinnate, with five to seven leaflets and occasionally nine. The leaflet undersurfaces, petioles, and young branches are either smooth (var. subintegerrima; green ash) or pubescent (var. pennsylvanica; red ash). The samaras are narrow and taper to a needle-like base.


Green ash are found in every Ohio county and are very common in appropriate habitats statewide. Green ash are also commonly planted as a landscape tree, often under the name Marshall ash. While the odd tree may occur in drier sites, green ash is the common ash of low wet or poorly drained sites, river floodplains, ravine bottoms, swamps, and similar places. It is often one of the dominant trees in such habitats. Green ash frequently dominate the margins of vernal pools, and sometimes occurs with black and pumpkin ash. They frequently grow in deeper areas that hold water for extended periods. C of C: 3

Jim McCormac

Jim McCormac

This species, along with black and pumpkin ash, are Ohio’s wetland ashes. Green ash is often confused with white ash, which grows on well-drained sites. Samaras are the best way to identify ash and the fruit can often be found at any time of year by digging through the leaf litter.

Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)

C of C: 5

D. R. Celebrezze

The pin oak thrives in clayey, waterlogged soils where it can be the dominant tree. It is found in a variety of wet situations: river floodplains, swampy woods, forests along bog margins, etc. Sometimes it occurs where sites are better drained such as meadows and fencerows. The pin oak may also dominate in vernal pools, such as in the Oak Openings Region of northwest Ohio.

Of Ohio’s fourteen native oak species, only the swamp white oak normally occurs in wet soils. It is differentiated by its much broader, shallowly lobed leaves. The combination of deeply lobed bristle-tipped leaves, numerous gnarled, downward sweeping branches extending far down the trunk, and tiny acorns make pin oak distinctive. Oaks hybridize prolifically within their subgenera and hybrids can be perplexing. Pin oak hybridizes with four other Ohio oak species in the red oak group.

In boom years, pin oaks produce plentiful acorn crops, an invaluable source of food for many mammals and birds, notably red-headed woodpeckers and blue jays. Pin oaks also provide excellent roosting cover.

Nina Harfmann

The bark of the pin oak is smooth and dark gray, interspersed with darker fissures. It typically has a distinctive gnarly look due to numerous branches extending down the trunk. The leaves are deeply lobed, with each lobe sharply pointed and bristle-tipped. Its acorns are just over a half inch in length and topped with a shallow cap.

Jim McCormac

The pin oak tree, part of the beech family (Fagaceae), often exceeds 80 feet and can grow to more than 100 feet. It is found in every Ohio county, most frequently in glaciated regions of the state, least common in unglaciated hill country.



Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) Swamp white oak trees occur from New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts westward through the southern Great Lakes to Iowa, Missouri, eastern Kentucky and southern Wisconsin, and is found in all but three counties in Ohio. This species has a Wetland Indicator Status of Facultative Wet.

The leaves vary in length (up to 7 inches), and have a width of 4-3/8 inches, usually with regularly spaced, shallow, rounded teeth, or toothed in distal half only, or moderately to deeply lobed, upper surfaces dark green and glossy, lower surfaces lighter green to whitish, softly hairy.

Swamp white oak may be found in a number of soil types (e.g. silty clay to silts and sandy loams) bottomland forests, riparian areas, swales, pond and lake edges, and swamps. Individual trees may grow up to 100 feet with an irregular crown.

The swamp white oak flowers from May through June, during early development of the leaves, while fruiting occurs from August to October. C of C: 7


The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and obovate to narrowly elliptic to narrowly obovate (eggshaped and flat, with the narrow end attached to the stalk).

Mick Micacchion

Mick Micacchion

The bark is dark gray in color with deep furrows. Its twigs are smooth and light-brown; the buds are light brownish-orange, smooth, and ovoid (shaped like an egg).

Jim McCormac

Jim McCormac

Other Trees

Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa)

C of C: 3

Jim McCormac

MAD Scientist & Associates

C of C: 7

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)

Pumpkin ash (Fraxinus profunda) C of C: 7

Swamp cottonwood

(Populus heterophylla) C of C: 9


Other Plants, Shrubs & Trees There are dozens of species of vegetation that grow in or near a vernal pool. This guide is not meant to be a complete list, but rather to pique the reader’s interest and encourage exploration of these species.

John Mack

Grasses Floating manna grass

Purple-fringed riccia

(Glyceria septentrionalis) White grass (Leersia virginica) Herbaceous Dicots Mild water-pepper

Sedges Crested sedge (Carex cristatella) Weak stellate sedge (Carex seorsa)

Prickly hornwort

Shrub Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum)

(Polygonum hydropiperoides)

(Ricciocarpus natans)

Jim McCormac

(Ceratophyllum echinatum) Star duckweed (Lemna trisulca) Swamp dock (Rumex verticillatus) Water purslane (Ludwigia palustris)

Star duckweed C of C: 6 114

Perennial Common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Mosses & Liverworts Purple-fringed riccia (Ricciocarpus natans) Tree moss (Climacium americanum)

Trees Black willow (Salix nigra) Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) River birch (Betula nigra) Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story. Linda Hogan

MAD Scientist & Associates


Winged monkey-flower


Index & Resources


11, 24 77 77 78 78, 88, 122 109, 110 114 24 59, 61 30-31, 42-43 75 98, 101 25 79 80 105 79 93, 94 80 2 114 107 49 80 12-13 81

crayfish crested wood fern crested sedge crosiers cyclopoids damselflies daphnia dark fishing spider devil crayfish digger crayfish dragonflies dragonfly larvae eastern box turtle eastern cottonwood eastern garter snake eastern painted turtle eastern ribbon snake eastern tiger salamander emerald ash borer emerald spreadwing fairy shrimp false nettle ferns fiddleheads fingernail clam fishfly floating manna grass

73 96 114 93 80 53, 57, 58 81 67 73 73 54-58 153 61-62 114 45, 47 62 48 32-33 109, 110 53 71, 74-75 105 93-96 93 82 82 114

Dick Todd Photography

American toad amphibious snails amphipod aquatic worm backswimmer black ash black willow Blanchard’s cricket frog Blanding’s turtle blue-spotted salamander brine shrimp bromelike sedge bullfrog caddisfly calanoid cardinal-flower chironomid midge cinnamon fern clam shrimp Coefficient of Conservatism (C of C) common arrowhead common buttonbush common water snake copepod Cope’s gray treefrog crawling water beetle

Salamander eggs with larvae


Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI) 2 four-toed salamander 29 fowl manna grass 97 Fowler’s toad 9, 11 fringed sedge 99, 101 frogs 9-26 giant water bug 83 globe skimmer 56 graceful sedge 102 grasses 97, 114 gray treefrog 12-13 Gray’s sedge 99, 100 green ash 110 green frog 26 harpactoids 80 hemlock water parsnip 103 herbaceous dicots 103-105, 114 highbush blueberry 108 hop sedge 102 horsehair worms 83 isopod 84, 127 Jefferson salamander 34-35, 42-43 Jesus bugs 90 Kelley’s Island salamander 42 lance-tipped darner 57, 120 118

leech macroinvertebrates mad-dog skullcap marbled salamander marsh-marigold Marshall ash mayfly mild water-pepper mole salamander mosquito mosses mountain chorus frog northern leopard frog northern spreadwing northern water snake nursery spider

84 71-90 103 36-37 105 110 85 114 30, 36, 40 85 114 14-15 16-17 57 49 69 Ohio Environmental Council 2, 128 ostracod 86 perennial 97, 103, 114 phantom midge 86, 121 pickerel frog 25 pin oak 111 planaria 87 plants 91-114 pond-breeding salamander 38 pond skaters 90 predaceous diving beetle 76

prickly hornwort pumpkin ash purple-fringed riccia red eft red-spotted newt river birch rose sedge royal fern salamanders sedges sensitive fern shadow darner shellbark hickory shrubs silky dogwood silver maple silvery salamander six-spotted fishing spider skunk-cabbage slender spreadwing small-mouthed salamander snakes snapping turtle snow fleas softshell turtles southern spreadwing spadefoot toad

114 110, 113 114 44 44 114 102 94 27-44 98-102, 114 91, 95 54, 123 113 106-108, 114 114 113 42 65, 68 104 51, 58 38-39, 42-43 45-49 63 87 61, 63 57 26

tumblers turtlehead turtles unisexual ambystoma salamander wandering glider wandering spiders water boatman water fleas water mites water purslane water scavenger beetle water scorpion water strider weak stellate West Nile virus western chorus frog whirligig beetle white ash white grass white water buttercup winged monkey-flower winterberry wolf spider wood frog yellow water buttercup

85 114 59-63 30, 42-43 56, 58, 125 67 78, 122 81 88 114 89 89 90 114 85 20-21 90 110 114 104 105, 115 106 67, 69 22-23 104

David R. Celebrezze

spicebush 108 spiders 65-69 spinulose wood fern 96 spotted salamander 27, 35, 40-41, 119 spotted turtle 63 spot-winged glider 58 spring peeper 18-19 springtails 87 star duckweed 114 stellate sedge 102 streamside salamander 38 swamp buttercup 105 swamp cottonwood 113 swamp darner 55 swamp dock 114 swamp rose 107 swamp white oak 112 sweet woodreed 97 thin-legged wolf spider 69 tiger salamander 32-33, 42-43, 126 (also eastern tiger salamander) toads 11, 24 toe-biters 83 tree moss 114 trees 109-113, 114 Tremblay’s salamander 42 true salamander 44

Spotted salamander


References Barnes, R.D. 1974. Invertebrate Zoology. W.B. Saunders Company. Pp 870. Borman, Susan, et al. Through the Looking Glass: A Field Guide to Aquatic Plants. Bronmark, C., and L.A. Hansson. 2001. The Biology of Lakes and Ponds. Oxford University Press. Pp 216. Colburn, Elizabeth. Vernal Pools: A Natural History and Conservation. McDonald & Woodward Publishing. Pp 426. Goin, C.J. 1949. The Peep Order in Peepers: A Swamp Water Serenade. Quart J. Florida Acad. Sci., 11:59-61. Izaak Walton League of America. Guide to Aquatic Insects & Crustaceans. Kenney, Leo P., and Burne, Matthew R. 2001. A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools.

Glenn Corbiere

Klots, Elsie B. The New Field Book of Freshwater Life.

Female lance-tipped darner

Morgan, Ann Haven. Field Book of Ponds and Streams. Parmalee, Jeffrey R., et al. A Field Guide to Amphibian Larvae and Eggs of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and


Pennak, Robert W. Fresh-Water Invertebrates of the United States. Petranka, J.W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington & London 587p. Pfingsten, R.A. and F.L. Downs 1989. Salamanders of Ohio. Ohio Biological Survey Bulletin. New Series vol. 7 No. 2 315p. Thorp, J.A. and A.P. Covich (Editors). 1991. Ecology and Classification of North American Freshwater Invertebrates. L.D Delorme, Ostracoda pages 691-716. C.E.


USDA. Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2000 and 2004. National Plant Data Center and the Biota of North America Program

USDI. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. National list of vascular plant species that occur in wetlands. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biological Report 88 (26.9). Voshell, J. Reese, Jr. A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America. Walker, C.F. 1946. The Amphibians of Ohio. Part 1. Frogs and Toads. Ohio State Museum Science Bulletin Vol. 1 No. 3. 109p. Wechsler, Doug. Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool. L.Lee Cerny

Williamson, Copepoda. Pp 787-813. Academic Press. CITATIONS Pg 47: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 2006; Towson University, 2007; Bell, Hermann, Wassersug, pg. 279;

Phantom midge

Pg 47: Pg 60: Barbour, 1921; Kissane, 2001; Sierwald and Coddington, 1988; Kaston, 1981; Emerton, 1902; Bishop, 1924; University of Arkansas Anthropod Museum. Pg 61:; Pg 66: Crocker and Barr, 1968; Crocker and Barr, 1968; Guiasu et al., 1996; Hamr, unpublished; Ontario Study, Guiasu et al., 1996. Pg 69: Pg 80: AgriLife Extension Texas A&M System.


Websites of Interest The Columbus Foundation, Friends of Wetlands, The Joyce Foundation, Ohio Amphibians,

L. Lee Cerny

Ohio Department of Natural Resources,

Backswimmer (top) and water boatman (bottom)

Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Wetland Ecology Reports Ohio Vernal Pool Partnership, Vernal Pool Association, The Wilderness Center,

An Introduction to the Natural History of the Frogs and Toads of Ohio FrogsToadsOhio.aspx

The Hall of Arthropods 122


We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts.

Shadow darner

William Hull

William Hazlitt, “On Taste� (1859)




amplexus The copulatory embrace of frogs and toads, during which the male fertilizes the eggs that are released by the female. annuli The body segments of leeches are always subdivided into two or more rings called annuli. benthos Near the substrate (floor) of the water body. calcareous Anatomical structures which are made primarily of calcium carbonate. Bob Glotzhober

carapace A dorsal (upper) section of the exoskeleton or shell in a number of animal groups. carnivore Animals that eat mainly, or exclusively, animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging. claspers Appendages used by males to grab females during mating. cloaca The posterior opening that serves as the only such opening for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts of certain animal species including salamanders. crayfish chimney Muddy, hollow columns in high moisture soil created by burrowing crayfish.

Wandering glider

culms Flower and fruit-bearing stems of sedges and other such plants. cysts Fully developed embryos enclosed in a hard, spongy shell. detritus Non-living particulate organic material. detrivore Creatures that consume decomposing organic matter. diploid Having two sets of chromosomes. dorsal Relating to the back of a creature. facultative wetland plants Plants that are just as likely to be found in uplands (50% of the time) as in wetlands (50% of the time). fertile Containing sporangia and sterile fronds. gular Inflatable throat pouch on frogs and toads. herbaceous dicot A plant, usually an annual, with a soft, non-woody stem. herbivore Animals that are adapted to eat plants. hermaphroditic Animal or plant with reproductive organs normally associated with both male and female sexes.


herringbone A pattern comprised of rows of parallel lines that, in any two adjacent rows, slope in opposite directions. hibernacula The shelter of a hibernating animal. hydric soil A soil that forms under conditions of saturation, flooding, or ponding long enough during the growing season to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. DRCelebrezze

inflorescence The flowering part of a plant

Tiger salamander

invertebrate An animal without a backbone. keel/keeled Ridge-shaped part. larva A distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. macroinvertebrate Animals that have no backbone and are visible without magnification. metamorphosis A profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism. milt Seminal fluid of the male. obligate wetland plants Plants that occur in wetlands more than 99% of the time. oviparous A word that literally means “egg bearing” and refers to animals that produce and lay eggs. oviposit Process of laying eggs by oviparous animals (such as dragonflies). perennial Plant that lives for more than two years. perigynium Some unusual appendage about the pistil, as the bottle-shaped body in the sedges, and the bristles or scales in some other genera of the sedge family. Plural is perigynia. pinnae Leaf segments. pinnules Any of the secondary branches of a plumose organ especially of a crinoid. pistil Female reproductive part of a flower. pistillate Said of a flower bearing a pistil or pistils but not stamens, may refer also to a plant having only pistillate flowers. plastron Nearly flat part of the shell structure of a turtle or tortoise (“belly”).


polygamous Having more than one mate at one time.

prolegs Fleshy, stubby structures found on the ventral surface of the abdomen of most larval forms of insects. pruinose Covered with whitish dust or bloom. rhizome A characteristically horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes may also be referred to as creeping rootstalk, or rootstocks. samaras Type of fruit in which a flattened wing of fibrous, papery tissue develops from the ovary wall. David R. Celebrezze

sessile Attached directly by a broad base. spermatozoa Mature fertilizing gamete of a male organism. spermatophore Capsule or mass created by the male salamander, containing spermatozoa, that is deposited on vegetation on the bottom of a vernal pool. spinnerets A silk-spinning organ found on spiders, usually on the underside of the abdomen, to the rear. Most spiders have six spinnerets; some have two, four, or eight. They move independently and in concert to build webs. sporangia Plural for a plant, fungal, or algal structure producing and containing spores.


spore Reproductive structure that is adapted for dispersal and surviving for extended periods of time in unfavorable conditions. stamen Male reproductive organ of a flower. staminate Having stamens but lacking pistils. thorax Section of an animal’s body that lies between the head and the abdomen. ventral The belly. Located near or on the anterior or lower surface of an animal opposite the back. vernal pool A seasonal wetland that fills annually from precipitation, run off, and rising groundwater. A typical vernal pool dries out by summer’s end. water column The conceptual column of water from surface to bottom sediments. wetland Area that is inundated or saturated by surface or ground water often enough to support plants adopted for life in saturated soil conditions. 127

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Salamander photo by Carrie Elvey


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Ohio's Hidden Wonders: A Guide to the Plants & Animals of Ohio's Vernal Pools  
Ohio's Hidden Wonders: A Guide to the Plants & Animals of Ohio's Vernal Pools  

Ohio's Hidden Wonders: A Guide to the Animals and Plants of Vernal Pools is a field guide dedicated to the animals and plants of Ohio's vern...