Introduction: Recreate a Vanishing Ecosystem : the Eastern Vernal Pool

Picture of Recreate a Vanishing Ecosystem : the Eastern Vernal Pool

Although the best choice would be to not destroy our environment to begin with, it comes too late for the vernal pool. Vernal pools are seasonally flooded pockets of wetland that serve as breeding grounds for both obligate and facultative species. Most salamanders, toads and tree frogs rely on these seasonal pools for breeding because of the freedom they offer from predatory fish. Unfortunately, estimates are that >90% of all these habitats have been destroyed. Whatever small attempt we suburbanites make is worthwhile.
The Eastern part refers to pools found in woodlands east of the Rockies, vernal pools typical of Californai are a world unto themselves.

Step 1: What We'll Need

A shallow wide container, ie. A cement mixing tub, a child's wading pool, etc. I chose a cement mixing tub based on longevity, I've used them for at least five years for hydroponics with no UV degradation.

A Shovel

A Level

Some small pavers

Stone (Optional)


Leaf mould


Step 2: Find a Place

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Start by locating a shady place for your pool, vernal pools are heterotrophic with the leaf mould feeding the ecosystem, shade also moderates temperature swings.

Lay out your container and sprinkle flour around it to mark where to dig. Excavated until the container sits in the hole just a little proud of the ground level, we want to avoid runoff from the lawn (with it's associated contaminates) from entering the pool. Level the pool in the hole and backfill with soil, firm the soil around the container being sure to keep an eye on the level.

Setting up the pool

Use the pavers to build steps out of the pool, we aren't building a toad trap here, and without the steps they won't be able to get out either as adults or juveniles. Now sprinkle an inch thick layer of leaf mould on the bottom, if you can collect this legally from a known pool, great, if not, just from under a tree is fine. Don't worry if it floats it will sink after a few days.

Add water

Step 3: Dress It Up

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Here's the treasure I found, as I was digging the hole I found these rocks buried there by a prior owner and used them to border the pool. My wife, the landscape designer said Oh, that's, umm, nice ;-).

If you absolutely must add plants, go ahead but locate the pool in a spot where it gets 6+ hours of sun a day or the plants won't do well. Eventually ground covers will be planted around the pool.

Step 4: Maintainance

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Once a month, throw in part of a mosquito dunk. They are very specific to dipterans and won't affect the ecosystem unduly.

If you live where it freezes allow the pool to dry up during the late summer and refill with spring melt, in the south the pool can be kept filled year round.

Be sure to keep leaves from filling the pool completely and most importantly NEVER ADD FISH.

Step 5: In Conclusion

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Adding a small fish free pool to the average suburban yard will do precious little to mitigate the impact of suburban sprawl, but if you're already a part of the problem, it offers a small means to increase the biodiversity of your backyard and a respite for those animals displaced from their traditional breeding grounds.

Finally here's a few pictures of creatures that have frequented one of my backyard vernal ponds.


jamob (author)2012-08-16

have a huge one in our backyard! snakes some turtles, lots and lots of frogs, ducks, even the occasional muskrat and i believe some flying squirrels ina large dead tree. Its really cool extremly overgrown and filled with algae though

bsharding1982 (author)2012-04-12

Yeah.........................if its gonna attract snakes like that I'll pass :)

bosherston (author)2010-05-14

My kid goes pond dipping with school today. Ponds are the freshwater equivalent to rockpools in the fascination they hold. I'm going to make a wildlife pond this year. Thanks for the inspiration Animal.

killerjackalope (author)2010-04-30

We had a vernal pool in our back garden - a previous occupant of the house left a kids paddling pool half buried in the garden, it became a breeding ground for frogs and other wildlife... So we never moved it.

A good name (author)2009-08-30

Okay so I finally found a way to make this pond without plastic lining but i'm wondering if The pond can be in complete shade or if it needs significant sunlight.

Most eastern vernal pools are shaded, western vernal pools in the sun, but anything is better than nothing.

Well I live in British Columbia, so west... I really just want to attract wildlife though.. I read about an interesting clay that expands when wet, and therefore won't allow water to seep through. I want to get some of it to make a pond like this, anything that will attract wildlife (I'm planning on putting it near a fence, under a really shady pine tree (also against the fence) and the rest of the sun is largely blocked by a hot tub... (we don't use the hot tub much at the moment but if the traffic would be an issue, please tell me) lastly, there are wildflowers on the other side, which grow extremely high, and would (I imagine) provide some nice areas for the frogs to loiter around in) Sorry about all the brackets, lol.

I Guess by west i was thinking more california arizona kinda, British Columbia , that's pretty heavy tree cover isn't it, shade should be fine. It'll atract ildlife whereever, you'llget different species depending on where it's placed, newts and salamanders will probably appreiciate the shade.

Cool, thanks... I know that birds seem to like shallow running water a bit better... I would do that, but I'm not in the mood for motors or pumps or anything of that degree. Anyways, thanks for the help.

A good name (author)2009-05-31

Hey, I live in British Columbia, and I was wondering if it would work up here? (Fairly cold falls, winters, springs, with hot summers)

I'm sure it would work fine, If you have prolonged periods below freezing you might want a container shaped such that it will be less likely top split from the ice (sloping sides).

How deep will it need to be? Will I see any tadpoles or anything?

A good name (author)A good name2009-06-01

And for that matter, how big?

Bigger is always better, but at a minimum 6 inches deep, and about 2x2 foot. Yes you may see tadpoles, I do.

K, thanks for your help.

blizz86 (author)2008-07-30

lol was that cuban frog really a resident?? lol and the snake too?? loll did you know frogs dont mate?? the males squeeze the females chest to hips with their thumbs and make eggs squirt out ! loll

A good name (author)blizz862009-05-31

I saw on planet earth that frogs have buttsex... :|

bob.smitty (author)2008-08-06

really nice... i like the way you think (and work) i've created something similar quite by accident by leaving a cement mixing tub outside with a thick layer of sand on the bottom (left over from a casting experiment) it's now full of water and bugs and tadpoles. the only think i can take credit for, asides from procrastinating in putting all that away, is for dragging it closer to the sprinkler perimeter so it won't dry out.

Lightly (author)2008-07-15

Excellent. Thanks, in the past I have tried to leave a large saucer of water available to insects and others in my garden, this is an even better solution.

headphoned (author)2008-07-13

The town in which I live has no shortage of vernal pools. Something like 500+ of them, and because they're so eco-precious or whatever they're a right pain whenever anyone wants to build anything. Still, some of the life adapted to them is pretty cool.

Tool Using Animal (author)2008-05-09

Hi Stix , Avoid the goldfish, they will eat tadpoles, I have a few in my larger pond and there are very few tadpoles, and in a pond goldfish will grow, mine are up to about ten inches right now, and they were little feeders when I got them. Don't worry about importing the animals, they will show up on their own in a short period of time. I live in the middle of suburbia and have not shortage of wildlife (at least the wildlife that can tolerate man) in my yard.

mikesty (author)2007-08-06

Mosquitoes much?

akimbo m (author)mikesty2007-08-06

A wiggler(motor with thrashing wire) powered by a solar light much?

Good Doctor (author)akimbo m2007-08-06

Interesting. Would you comment about the difference between the mosquitoes doughnuts vs. the wiggler?

I've never tried a wiggler, being in the shade the solar option is iffy, I prefer just to dip out some water occasionally and to drop in a chunk of doughnut if I see any larva. For example there are no larva in the sample below, so no doughnut for them. The depth is a consequence of the container chosen and also to facilitate drying out in the fall, I've seen plenty of evidence that the local treefrogs and toads would breed in that depth and went ahead and used a container I had on hand.

westfw (author)Tool Using Animal2007-08-06

But... Aren't mosquito larva an important part of the ecosystem you're trying to recerate?

Tool Using Animal (author)westfw2007-08-06

Sacrifices must be made for the commonweal.

hahaha thats funny that you say that

a dognut or like some thing else??'

Though you could just position the hacked solar light, into somewhere with light, and just trail the wire to the pond. But even in relative shade still might be fine, since we do not need the motor to spin for the whole night. And best of all, its maintainable free, especially if you replace the battery with the newer Ultra Capacitors. (and a resistor for the motor)

seedlingproject (author)2007-08-23

Is the snake eating the frog for real? Is it your photo? It's incredible!

Yes and yes, Thanks!

Tool Using Animal (author)2007-08-18

Wanted to add that I've spotted predacious diving beetles and tadpoles already

Joyce (author)2007-08-13

Enjoyed the instructable. I have two small ponds one an old claw foot bath tub and one liner rescued and repaired. I just let my pools take care of themselves unless the water gets very low, but be aware that some tadpoles, pig frogs and bullfrogs are two that I know of, take up to two years to become frogs. I discovered this when cleaning debris from the pools one Spring and found I was pouring out very large tadpoles.

Good Doctor (author)2007-08-06

I have been considering this for a while, though my plans involved a much deeper pool, maybe 18+" deep, to facilitate plants. Is there a reason it's so shallow?

cooblades (author)Good Doctor2007-08-10

Make sure you check local regulations regarding ponds. In my area any body of water you place in your property deeper than 12" is classified the same way as a swimming pool. To keep small kids from sneaking into your backyard and drowning the local government might force you to construct a lockable fence and obtain a permit. Google " swimming pool regulations" and that will usually pull up the regulations.

Kiteman (author)cooblades2007-08-13

Good grief! We don't have such rules over here. If we did, I'd be in deep trouble, having dug two ponds for a friend (she moved house), both over 3 feet deep. I don't agree that the pool will "do little" - if lots of people use them in neighbouring gardens, you effectively create a corridor along which critters can travel in relative comfort - the more people have these little stepping stones (paddling pools?), the more likely it is that dependent critters will thrive in enough numbers to make a local difference. My own pond is about 2 feet deep, about 5x4 feet in area. It has goldfish from the previous owner but two, and a steady population of around a dozen frogs that successfully spawn most years. Our neighbour gets a grass-snake in his garden, so I think that's why the frogs stay at around 10-12 in number.

Einarjon (author)2007-08-11

Amazing insect closeups in step 5. What kind of camera/lens are you using?

it was a fuji finepix 5600 with a 55mm lens from a binoculars taped to the lens.

mattsogreat (author)2007-08-10

REMEMBER IF U CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON NAUTRAL WATER (river/stream/lake) Tap water has to much Chlorine in it and not enough heavy metals. IF the pond right by your house dont buy a solar pannel pump! just give it a light swirl with a small stick every so often.

CapnChkn (author)2007-08-06

Downright wonderful! Years ago I took up a concept of building water gardening as an art form. I thought if people had utilities in their houses that used green elements we as a culture would become aware of our water and our responsibility for the rest of the planet. Later I found a company using the water element but not the rest of my ideas. The water was sterilized. My concepts too labor intensive. My efforts were stymied, anyone who showed any interest was only concerned in raising fish, and understanding a semi-closed ecosystem wasn't their problem, how to keep algae and fungus from growing in the pool was.

chuckr44 (author)CapnChkn2007-08-07

Your vernal pool is a great idea. However your mosquito dunks will kill ALL invertebrates, including insect larva and triops, whose eggs can survive the dry months and freezing.

I shouldn't think so, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, is highly target specific. However if you can convince me otherwise......

I'd like to ask, do you have any links which show that BT is non-toxic to other aquatic inverts and only kills mosquito larva? Is BT harmful to midge larva also?

Here's the reference I've been going by BTI

I believe it says it's moderately toxic to midges.

What do you mean "target specific"? Does it only target mosquito larva? What happened to me was I put some ghost shrimp in a pond (new pond, added dechlorinator) after I had added BT to the pond. The shrimp were dead within a week. (Ghost shrimp are freshwater.) Pond was new so build up of ammonia was not the problem. Weather was mild, it was spring and not too cold or hot. I asked on Gardenweb what could have killed them and an entomologist (who hangs out there) said the BT certainly killed them and BT kills all aquatic inverts. Now it's possible he knows how to id bugs, and that he wasn't too familiar with BT.

robbtoberfest (author)chuckr442007-08-07

Adding mosquito fish works well in mine.

RebelWithoutASauce (author)2007-08-06

It should be mentioned that this isn't a real vernal pool. They are disappearing because they are such a delicate setup in nature. Also, by definition they will be completely dry during certain parts of the year.

MrTrick (author)2007-08-06

Very nice! A pity I couldn't really fit one on my apartment balcony.

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Bio: Working my dream job in the Telecom industry, so chances are, i'll never have time to respond to comments or messages, nothing personal.
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