Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all, about the circle of life.
A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool located in the woods behind our house.
Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days.
Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed. And what’s not to love about the unique tapestry, a pattern never repeated.
With keen eyes I’d gaze in, but at first my focus was only upon the reflection offered by the bare-limbed trees above.
And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool.
The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner.
A day or two later, her deposited eggs already swelled with water, presented themselves like a tapioca pudding popsicle.
Soon they were joined by so many other globular masses making a statement that living in community is safer than upon your own and might provide warmth when the temperature dips.
Inevitably it did dip, and one day snowflakes frosted the rocks and ground, sugar-coated the tree branches, and plopped like leaden raindrops, rippling the water’s surface.
But . . . the embryos still formed.
With each visit it became more and more apparent that a vernal pool isn’t just about Wood Frogs. Spotted Salamanders and midges and beetles and mites and water striders and squirrels and deer and raccoons and snakes and so many others benefited regularly from its nourishment. Even the resident Barred Owl liked to call occasionally. But perhaps the most prolific residents were the mosquito larvae who wriggled and tumbled through the water column.
Predacious Diving Beetles intent upon creating more of their own, lived there as well.
One of the curious wonders about those who use a vernal pool as a breeding ground is that they don’t stay around to parent their offspring. If fact, once canoodling is done, they either hop, climb, or fly out and spend the rest of their lives in the forest.
Despite the lack of nurturing, within two weeks tadpoles emerged. Hundreds at first. And then . . . thousands.
A month later, as the pool began to shrink significantly because it is vernal, and fed only by rain or snow melt, my tadpoles, so claimed since I’m about the only one who checks on them regularly, started to show off their more adult form in the making.
Suddenly . . . a few sweltering days later and all the water had evaporated.
Stepping toward the center with hope, I was instead greeted with the horrific odor of decaying bodies and a Flesh Fly confirmed my suspicions.
Also buzzing all about were Green Bottle Flies and the reason for so much frantic activity: carnage by my feet.
But I soon came to realize that while not all the frogs had transformed in time to leave the pool, many must have and it still teemed with life–of a different kind.
American Carrion Beetles also stalked this place of death.
Over and under leaves, the Carrion Beetles moved as they mated. The rotting tadpoles provided a place for them to lay their eggs and a food source for their future larvae. This was true for the flies and even little mites who live in a symbiotic relationship with the beetles and eat fly eggs so the beetle larvae have the carrion to themselves.
As I watched, one canoodling pair of beetles flipped over and if you look closely, you might see he was on top (or the bottom in this case) and biting one of her antennae as part of their mating ritual.
At last it was with great sadness that I said goodby to those who could not, but leaving the stench and frantic activity behind, I reminded myself that this happens each year and there’s a reason why frogs lay so many eggs. Without my witnessing it, some, possibly many, did hop away from the pool. And next year they’ll return to carry on the ritual. Until then, the flies and beetles and so many others will bring new life and by November the depression will fill again waiting for the saga of the vernal pool to continue.
In parting, here’s a quick video of the sights and sounds.