Want to save a hundred lives in a night, without leaving your home town?

Why Do It?

All over the world, amphibians are in trouble. With decreasing numbers and shrinking habitats, they are becoming rapidly endangered or extinct. Here in Vermont, however, there is a unique opportunity available for helping these creatures.

When Is It?

Each spring, all amphibians emerge from their usual haunts in the woods and ponds of Vermont. They migrate from their customary upland habitats where they spend most of their lives, and travel to the vernal pools (temporary ponds that dry out in the summer) where most lay their eggs. Most notable in this spate of migrations is that of the beautiful, but rarely seen, Eastern Spotted Salamander.

While frogs are commonly seen on the roads in springtime, as well as toads, newts, and Redback salamanders, the Eastern Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) does not drift into our roadways in a haphazard or sporadic fashion. Instead, these large (up to 11”) salamanders have a mass migration that usually occurs on a single night, traveling from their woody upland habitat to lay their eggs in vernal pools. Since this trip usually involves moving from higher and dryer to lower and wetter ground, they are often forced to cross roads.

This migration normally comes at the first warm rain of spring, usually in the second or third week of April, when the temperature is at least 42 degrees. Depending on how wet it is, it can take hours for a single “Ambie” to cross a two lane paved road. Thus, if crossing a well-traveled road the adult salamander population could be drastically reduced during their single night of migration. However, since the night of migration is easily identified, with the help of only a few volunteers willing to locate and “cross” the salamanders, many fatalities can be avoided at no financial cost and with little time or energy.

How Should I Do It?

In the town of Middlesex, a salamander rescue project has been successfully crossing “Ambies” for several years. One main site and three smaller ones have been identified, and volunteers help with the “crossings.” More than 120 salamanders have been crossed in less than four hours at the larger site!

There are three elements to a successful Spotted salamander rescue program. The first is to identify crossing sites. All this takes is one or two volunteers patrolling all local roads on migration night for sightings of salamanders, and recording where they are found.

The second is to help with that actual crossing. Ideally, if there are enough volunteers, once a crossing spot is located, its discoverer can contact other volunteers via cell phone. One group of volunteers can help with the crossing at the identified site, while others continue to patrol roads for additional sites.

Lastly, once the crossing sites in a town are identified, information outreach can begin, through schools and local newspapers, and by word of mouth. Although most people don't want to run over these salamanders, it can be hard to recognize them at night, so the outreach effort can address this issue, and drivers be asked to be alert when near the crossing sites, and try to avoid hitting the “Ambies.” In this way, even if volunteers are not “manning” a site, roadkill can be dramatically reduced.

For a Do-It-Yourself Salamander Crossing Sign, Click Here