What is an Amphibian Pool?
An amphibian pool is a pond with a special purpose, to provide shelter and breeding area salamanders and frogs. It is constructed as shallow depression allowing water to collect and remain for extended periods. Amphibian ponds are fish-free ponds. Fish are natural predators of amphibians and their eggs.
Why Should I Create an Amphibian Pond?
Amphibians include frogs, toads, and salamanders. They are unique animals that use lungs, gills, and their skin for breathing. The majority of amphibians live a part of their lives in water or depend on moist environments for breeding, egg laying, and survival. However, due to habitat losses and degradation, along with increased air and water pollution, 25% of these species are currently in various levels of decline. This is especially true in urban and suburban environments where streams have been canalized and runoff from storms is directed quickly into storm drains and local waterways.
Amphibians are an important link in the food chain and depend on a variety of foods including: crayfish, earthworms, snails, insects and their larvae, and algae. Many amphibians depend on temporary pools for breeding, egg-laying or the juvenile stage of development. Some may only breed in forest pools within mature hardwood forest. By creating an amphibian pond on your property, you will help provide amphibians a home!
Ponds not only benefit wildlife, they can also help with water pollution. Ponds can be designed to detain stormwater, reduce downstream flooding, and remove pollutants. The most common pollutants found in stormwater come from sediment, oil and grease, and fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and streets in our neighborhoods.In addition to their water quality benefits, amphibian ponds can:
- Promote environmental stewardship and community pride;
- Provide habitat for other wildlife and native plants;
- Moderate air temperatures through evaporation;
- Increase real estate values by creating an aesthetically pleasing landscape
Developing Your Goals and Budget
|Before charging ahead with a pond project it is crucial to determine the budget for your work and set your goals. Let’s start with determining your budget, which will help determine your goals.
The cost associated with installing an amphibian pond can vary from around $50 for a small plastic pool to thousands of dollars for large woodland pools.
The cost of an amphibian pond is based on several factors including:
- The area of the pond;
- The location of the pond (wooded or more open area);
- The type of soils found on site (difficulty in digging the pond); and
- If you are going to design and install the pond yourself or use contractors.
The options available for paying for an amphibian pond installation vary depending on where the pond will be installed. If the pond will be installed on public land such as in a schoolyard or at a library or municipal building, grants are often available to fund construction. Grantors include the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener Program, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Small Watershed Grants Program. Your local government also may help pay for the pond’s installation.
If the pond will be on private lands, the options for financing are much more limited. If the pond will be installed at a business location, ask the business owner, the property manager, and the property owner to help finance the project. If the amphibian pond will be on an individual homeowner’s property, the pond should be small enough that the costs will be reasonable for the homeowner to absorb.
You may be installing an amphibian pond in the yard of a member of your organization, or for large apartment complex; you may be targeting a wooded area where amphibians are seen and heard, or targeting a specific audience such as a school in your watershed. Whatever the case, you will want to write out your specific goals and let them guide your work plan.
Some example goals:
- Increase the population of amphibians historically found in your watershed or community;
- Enhance community awareness of habitat decline due to increased human activity and presence in the area;
- Foster environmental stewardship and an interest in science by students, teachers, administrators, and members of the community.
Keep in mind that your goals and your audience may affect whether you use a contractor or install your own amphibian pond. Installing your own pond helps develop a sense of pride and ownership, however using a contractor may be required for a large site because of the need for special equipment and expertise. It may be a great teaching opportunity, for example, for young students to help install their own amphibian pond. Even if your pond will require the use of contractors and engineers, you can invite the community to help. This will reduce costs and instill a sense of ownership and pride.
Creating a Timeline
Your timeline will vary depending on how you have set up your project. For example, if you are planning on financing your project through a grant, your first steps are to find an appropriate grant vehicle and apply for the grant. Below is a sample timeline for an amphibian pool project on public property (a schoolyard) funded through a grant where individuals will aid in the installation.
- Determine the property where you will install the amphibian pond;
- Examine the flow of rain water on the site to determine the size and location of the amphibian pond;
- Contact the utility companies to make sure that the site is free from obstructions;
- Calculate the cost of installing the amphibian pond;
- Arrange for a location to store the supplies needed for the amphibian pond and purchase them;
- Arrange for supplies to be delivered or to pick up them up (NOTE: this may be an additional cost);
- Solicit volunteers to aid in the installation of the pond and/or its landscaping (for example a watershed group, a friends of the library group, school group, boy or girl scout troop);
- If possible, arrange for public officials to be present at the pond’s ground breaking, installation, planting, or dedication (could be all on the same day);
- Purchase or rent the necessary tools and equipment for the installation;
- Issue press releases and follow up with media about the amphibian pond construction/planting day to ensure publicity;
- Create and print educational materials to provide to reporters, public officials, and those who aid in the construction;
- Construct the pond (can be done in advance of a planting or dedication event that involves the media and public officials);
- Install the landscaping at the amphibian pond and hold a public ceremony;
- Follow up with the media to ensure the pond is publicized through additional press releases and phone calls;
- Follow up with event participantssending public officials and volunteers thank you letters
Locating and Sizing your Amphibian Pond
Finding a good location for a amphibian pond involves balancing a number of different factors:
The pond should be located in a place where it will receive runoff. Check to make sure runoff flows to your site, or could flow with minor modifications. The pond must be located far enough from buildings to avoid damage to their foundations. If the pond will be located near a building and it has a basement, the pool should be located at least 25 feet from the building. If there is no basement, the pool should be at least 10 feet from the building.
You should also look for a partially shaded spot that gets no more than four hours of direct sunlight a day, otherwise, the algae growth in your pond could get out of hand. Pools must be located adjacent to the protective cover that amphibians require after breeding. Pools are easiest to fill and maintain on sites with a high water table and a clay soil-type. In sandy or loamy soils, locate pool sites in close proximity to wetland areas. Be careful not to choose sites prone to flooding. Flooding can flush the pool or allow fish invasion.
Before you start digging, make sure the pond will be within reach of a garden hose. (You’ll need to add water during periods of low rainfall or freshen up water if it gets stagnant in late summer.) It’s also a good idea to build your pond close to a garden or unmown section of your property, which will draw plenty of bugs and keep amphibian occupants well fed.
Find out where underground utilities are buried. Stay at least five feet horizontally and one foot vertically from any utilities. Common utilities will include: water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, telephone, cable, and storm sewers. Note: It is often difficult and time consuming to find out exactly where all of the utilities are buried on your site, so start early. Write letters to each of the utilities, requesting plans showing the locations of underground utilities on your property. Before construction, you should call Miss Utility, who will come to your site and mark the locations of utilities with spray paint, so you can be certain of avoiding them.
The ponded area of your amphibian pool should have a maximum depth of three feet. Ideal pool size ranges from 20'x 30' to a quarter acre in size. Optimal pool depth is between 1 1/2' and 2 1/2'. Because sunlight can reach the bottom of shallow pools, they are more productive with a greater availability of food, cover, and egg-laying sites. If your pond is too small, you may have trouble keeping it from drying out during periods of low rainfall. Additionally, a small pond makes it difficult for the amphibians you are trying shelter to be safe from predators.
Advertising your Amphibian Pool Project
|There are lots of ways to advertise for an event and, unfortunately, no one way works consistently. Here are several options for you to choose from. The best outreach campaigns make use of several techniques and only you can know what is best for your project. Advertising options include:
- Creating and distributing door hangers to target a specific neighborhood where you would like to work;
- Creating and distributing a press release to your local paper, radio stations and/or television stations (see the Resources section for information on how to write and distribute a press release);
- Creating flyers and placing them in public libraries, recreation centers, and walking trails;
- Developing a web site or adding the information to an existing web site;
- Running an advertisement in a local paper, or on radio stations and/or television stations;
- Discussing the event at targeted community association, church group, youth group, and/or service organization meetings;
- Advertising your event on free on-line environmental calendars like www.potomacevents.org
- Sending out an email to people you think would be interested and asking them to tell their friends as well;
- Sending out a mass mailing to your targeted audience
Organizing an Amphibian Pool Construction and/or Planting
Please keep in mind that this is a general list of materials. The amounts you need will vary and depend on the size of the rain garden you are creating.
- Garden Hose
- String and Stakes
- Gardening Gloves
- Plastic Pond Liner (optional)
The success of your amphibian pool will depend on the plants that surround it and are found within it. You will need to "Prime" your new pool by adding vegetation, and substrates found in naturally occurring ponds. You can leave aquatic vegetation in pots submerged at varying depths in the pond or plant the vegetation in the soil.
You will also want to plant water tolerant plants around your pool. These plants will add visual interest, provide shade and cover for amphibians and attract the insects that the amphibians depend on for nourishment. Try to use native plants or plants that grow naturally in this climate or region -- that thrive without a lot of care, extra water, or especially extra fertilizer.
This is an opportunity to learn more about the types of plants that love the sun, love the shade, love to have their ‘feet wet’ for a day or two, or don’t mind being dry for days on end. It is like a puzzle. See if you can pick out plants that are different heights, have different leaf color, and bloom different colors throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. You can get help from your local agriculture or forest extension service, gardeners, or books on ponds and landscaping.
Once you know your site, make a scale drawing of your future amphibian pool and design where your plants will go. This step is part art and part science. Use circle templates of different sizes to represent the different possible plants and draw the plants around your pond. Select several 4-6 foot shrubs, a lot of perennials (flowers that come back every year), and depending on the size of the pond a medium-sized tree or two 15-20 feet at full growth. For the science of planting - remember to think about the plant’s tolerance to moisture, sunlight, and temperature in placing the plants. In terms of the art of planting consider the colors of the plants at different times of the year and the pattern of the plants in and around the pond (irregular patterns tend to look more natural).
Also consider these things when selecting plants:
- Choose native plants when possible;
- Avoid planting non-native invasive plants;
- Choose fragrant or edible plants when possible;
- Avoid toxic/poisonous plants;
- Avoid plants that produce excessive pollen
Construction techniques are extremely critical in ensuring the success of an amphibian pool. Various construction guidelines and inspection points are given below, as well as a general construction schedule.
Remember that each pond is unique. The sequence of construction described below is for a large-scale amphibian pond. A small pool may not require some of the steps below and some of the steps may take less time and therefore be combined.
Install sediment control devices (1/2 day) - These are for larger projects. Check with your local building permit office. It’s a good idea to surround the down gradient part of the site with straw bales or silt fence. It’s readily available and inexpensive.
Excavate pond area (1/2 day) - Equipment such as a backhoe may be rented for this step or a contractor might be called in. Make sure Miss Utility is notified before any digging. Safety fence should be used around any construction area or excavation. Make sure that at least one side of the pool has a gradual slope so that small animals will be able to get out of the pond.
Prepare the excavated pond area (1/2 day) - Remove any stones or sharp objects and line the bottom with sand to a depth of 5 cm. Cover the surface with a 45-millimeter rubberized pool liner, black in color, and put enough soil on top to support the vegetation that will be planted. Weigh down the outer edges of the liner with flat stones and enough soil that vegetation will grow around the border.
Fill the pond and plant vegetation (1/2 day) Fill the pond with water and add aquatic plants. Aquatic vegetation can be planted in pots, then submerged at varying depths in the pond, however, if your water is chlorinated, let it stand for 24 hours before planting. For terrestrial plantings, use a map of the pond that you have created in advance to plant vegetation for cover and to attract insects for hungry amphibians. When planting, try to avoid compacting the soil as much as is possible. After planting, rake the soil that was compacted to restore its original condition. Place a few small islands of rocks about two feet from the edge of the pond as a resting spot for frogs and dragonflies.
Don’t be disappointed if amphibians don’t take up residence in your pond right away. Sometimes they’re slow to expand their ranges. It is possible to speed up the colonization of your pond by collecting amphibian egg masses from nearby sites.
Complete new pools before winter since the majority of amphibians breed from late
January to July. Pool construction is easiest during dry, summer months.
Total Estimated Construction Time: 2 Days
Pond Installation/Planting Event
If you are going to have a press event to publicize your group at the amphibian pond installation, we recommend holding it when the plants are to be planted and the pond filled. There are several reasons for choosing this time.
- The other stages of pond construction can be technical and may take longer than expected;
- There is a great sense of accomplishment from having a site go from being bare to being covered with plants and filled with water. It can therefore instill a sense of ownership in the participants;
- This planted pool creates a great visual backdrop for photos and television footage;
- A planting event can use many volunteer and no great skill or strength is required.
It is not enough to have the plants ready for your eventsome final preparations need to be made to make your construction/planting a success.
In advance of your event make sure that you have:
- Enough tools to share among participants;
- Refreshments and snacks if possible or at least provide water;
- Created and printed a sign-in sheet;
- Prepared a task list so that you use your volunteer’s time and skills wisely;
- Done as much prep work as is possiblefor example, placed the plants where they are to be planted;
- Called key volunteers and asked them to arrive early and be Team Leaders;
- Put together an emergency medical kit and set up an emergency plan in case of an accident;
- Made sure that bathroom facilities are available for volunteers;
- Made sure to have access to water hose if possible;
- Contacted local newspapers;
Designated a volunteer to take photos of the event;
Maintaining Your Amphibian Pool
Pools can be easy to manage. Follow these steps to improve and protect fishless pools:
- Install spillways to maintain the proper pool depth in areas prone to flooding;
- Keep pool clean by fencing riparian and wet areas to exclude livestock;
- Minimize disturbance in pool area;
- Place shelters such as rotten logs, slabs, and brush piles on north-facing slopes of pools. Amphibians will also readily use old boards and rock piles adjacent to pools;
- Manage the immediate area for downed logs and the other constantly moist habitats needed by amphibians;
- Top up the pond water during dry spells. Freshen the water if it becomes stagnant in late summer.
When doing so, let your chlorinated water sit for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to off gas before adding it to the pond.
|Source: North Carolina State University Wildlife Extension Office (4.5 MB PDF file)