Vernal pools are a special type of wetlands feature that supports a range of organisms specially adapted to their changing nature. In a vernal pool, sometimes there is water and sometimes there is not. This makes a perfect habitat for marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) and many other amphibian species.

The marbled salamander lives much of its life underground, out of sight beneath logs, rocks, and forest litter. But during their autumn breeding season, the males and females will migrate to a dry vernal pool (or another dry area near a freshwater source) to mate. The female will lay eggs and stay with them to keep them moist. When the rain comes, the eggs are triggered to hatch. The young marbled salamanders will live in the water in their larval state until they have gone through their metamorphosis and are ready to live on land. This usually takes two–nine months. In addition to vernal pools, the females may also choose to lay their eggs near the banks of a slow-moving stream, a pond, or any other area close to freshwater prone to seasonal flooding.

The eastern United States is the native range of the marbled salamander, from New Hampshire to northern Florida, and west to Texas, Missouri, and Illinois. The Appalachian Mountains of this region are known as a particular hot spot for salamander biodiversity with over 72 species found documented, but the marbled salamander is largely absent from the higher elevations.

Human development of wild lands is responsible for the loss of the suitable habitat for marbled salamander breeding, and this loss continues each year. Marbled salamanders are just one of the life forms that rely on vernal pools and wetlands. The loss and fragmentation of their habitat pose a threat to their continued health and survival on the planet.

  1. Why are vernal pools and other seasonally flooded aquatic areas important in the life cycle of the marbled salamander?

    • Answer

      Vernal pools are a common type of landscape feature where marbled salamanders will mate and where the female will lay its eggs. It will lay the eggs while the pool is dry and wait with them to keep them moist until a rain event floods the pool. The salamanders may also lay eggs along a slow-moving stream or near a pond that will experience some flooding when the rain sets in. Vernal pools and wetlands habitats surrounded by woodlands are vital for marbled salamanders to thrive.

  2. How are species of fungi threatening the survival of salamander species and other amphibians?

    • Answer

      Diseases in amphibians caused by a type of fungus called a chytrid have been affecting amphibians worldwide. A species of this fungus has decimated populations of frogs in Central and South America and around the world. Another species of the fungus has affected salamander populations in Europe, and scientists are monitoring the situation closely. Salamanders native to North America are threatened by the international pet trade, which brings salamanders from other continents to the United States.

  3. What types of predators hunt the marbled salamander, and what special defense mechanisms can it use?

    • Answer

      Snakes, owls, raccoons, skunks, and weasels are just some of the woodland animals that will prey on marbled salamanders. The marbled salamander, like many species of salamander, has a poison gland on its tail that is a natural defense mechanism and may provide some degree of protection. 

Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

fragmentation
Noun

breaking up of large habitats into smaller, isolated chunks. Fragmentation is one of the main forms of habitat destruction.

larva
Noun

a new or immature insect or other type of invertebrate.

metamorphosis
Noun

complete change in form and structure from one part of the life cycle to the next, such as caterpillar to pupa, and pupa to butterfly.

Noun

native, geographic area in which an organism can be found. Range also refers to the geographic distribution of a particular species.

vernal pool
Noun

ponds or small bodies of water that are dry for at least part of the year, and usually do not have fish. Also called an ephemeral pool.

Noun

area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.