Tour Stop 6: Ephemeral Pond
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Some oak trees, even large, old ones, can have very shallow root structures. Look at the roots on this massive oak tree that was uprooted during Hurricane Ike. See how shallow they were? High winds, such as in a hurricane, strain these shallow roots. If their strength is exceeded, then the tree falls.
But the life does not stop. There is now a small pond where the tree's root ball was. This is called an ephemeral pond— when it rains, the pond will collect and hold water, but it will eventually dry up if we have a long, hot, dry spell, especially during the summer.
In the meantime, ephemeral ponds like this will provide drinking water for birds and animals in the forest. They also provide a place for toads and other amphibians to lay their eggs during their breeding season. The most common toad in this area is the Gulf Coast Toad, 2 to 5 inches long, with a light colored stripe down the center of its back and another light strip on each side from just behind the eyes to the hips. At night during spring and summer, especially after a heavy rain, you may be able hear the call of the Gulf Coast Toad.
The female toad can lay up to 1000 eggs at a time, each less than 1/8 of an inch in diameter, and protected by jelly like strands. In one to two days, the eggs will hatch into small tadpoles, which will gradually change into small toads over the course of about 2 months.
During this time, the tail is absorbed into the body, the front and back legs develop, and the animal switches from breathing with gills to breathing with lungs. Can you see any tadpoles in this pond?
Small snakes, like this beautiful Ribbon Snake, are attracted to ephemeral ponds by the presence of toad eggs and tadpoles, both of which are favorite foods for these little reptiles.
Frequently, spiders will build webs over or near the water holes to catch insects that are attracted to the water.
There are even dragonflies that have specifically evolved to lay eggs in ephemeral ponds; these quickly complete their larval period so they can emerge as adults before the water dries up.
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