Spring peepers, spotted salamanders, and wood turtles — where would some of Connecticut’s most recognizable amphibians be without vernal pools?

It’s a question that Ridgefield fourth graders have been tasked with answering during their recent visits to the Woodcock Nature Center.

For starters, these woodland water bodies are essential to the breeding cycle of the creatures that inhabit them — both in the spring, when life is forming, and in the summer, when things tend to dry up.

“They are small, basically like big puddles in the woods that dry up,” explained Mike Rubbo, Woodcock’s executive director, to the young learners from Farmingville Elementary School on May 11. “There’s no fish in these vernal pools, so certain animals use these pools as breeding habitats.”

This spring, the center will host 18 different fourth grade classes for two hours each.

While on-site, the students received a hands-on experience about the biology curriculum they are following in class.

Both kids and parents have been participating in the field trip, and discovering new facts about vernal pools through collecting water samples.

“Kids are learning what vernal pools are, what animals live in them, the adaptation of those animals, those kinds of things, so they go out to the vernal pool and they collect samples,” Rubbo told The Press. “They look for animals, they test the water and they just do some basic descriptions of the habitats surrounding the vernal pools, and they come back and talk about what they found.”  

Getting the feet wet

Training was provided ahead of time for the parents who participated in program.

Rubbo said parents were given reading material about vernal pools, and then were taught how to wade through the water to bring up guck from the bottom that kids could sift through to see what they could find.

Besides running their hands through the mud, students and chaperones also tested the water samples at the center’s chemical testing station.

‘Exploring Ecosystems’

Vernal pools are only one part of the picture that Woodcock is trying to paint.

“It’s part of a program that we are developing called Exploring Ecosystems,” Rubbo said. “We are trying to teach kids what ecosystems are, and how scientists study ecosystems, so the kids are kind of mini scientists for the day.

“And vernal pools are just one way we are hoping to develop more about forests and ponds and things like that.”