Although most vernal pool animals are small, their complex food webs sustain many larger species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Most of the critters in vernal pools are native to California and many survive only in vernal pools. We know little about them and less than half have been named.
Microlife is not a taxon or a scientific category. It is a term used to refer to a large, very diverse group of microscopic organisms, from plants to animals and species in between. For convenience Splash groups bacteria, algae (plants), protozoa and rotifers into the category of microlife. Each of these subgroups includes thousands of species, only a few of which live in vernal pools.
Any animal without a backbone is called an invertebrate. Hundreds of species of invertebrates live in vernal pools but only about half of them have been named. From insects to flatworms to seed shrimp, invertebrates create a diverse and interwoven world of creatures, living with (and off) one another.
Some zoologists spend a lifetime studying a single group of invertebrates or even a single species. There is so much we still do not know about them. After reading about them and watching videos of them in action visit The Faces of Science. There you will discover a man who was so crazy about Fairy Shrimp that he searched the world over to meet them all!
Amphibians are cold-blooded (ectothermic) vertebrates. Their body temperature stays at or near the temperature of the ground or air. All the amphibian species you will learn about here, will grow from an egg to a juvenile while underwater. While they are in that aquatic form, they have no lungs; they must get oxygen from the water. When they change form (metamorphose) into an adult, they acquire lungs that can get oxygen from the air.
Many amphibians must keep their skin moist even after they migrate away from the vernal pools as adults. Mammal burrows offer a damp place to hide and hunt for spiders, insects and other prey. What reptiles might also be hiding and hunting for amphibians there?
Reptiles are air-breathing vertebrates that are cold-blooded (ectothermic). Most reptiles lay eggs but some species give birth to live young. As they grow their skins become too tight, so they grow a new skin underneath the old one. When they are ready, they slide out of the old one, leaving it behind in the grass or someone’s underground burrow. See if you can find one in the prairie.
Mammals are warm-blooded (endothermic) vertebrates with hair. They breath air and give birth to live young, which feed on milk produced by their mothers. Some mammals in the vernal pool prairie spend most of their time underground. The burrows they dig create homes for many other animals.
Vernal pool prairies support many species of birds. Waterfowl and wading birds mostly hunt in and around the pools when they contain water. Many species of songbirds live in the surrounding uplands. Raptors sail over the prairie hunting for mammals and birds by day. They roost in nearby trees at night. Other raptors roost in the day and hunt in the night. Whooo are they? Read up and figure out whoooo is whoooo.
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