Every spring, spotted salamanders, wood frogs and other amphibians migrate to breeding (vernal) pools, and without the help of the public, amphibians may never reach their destination.
Environmental Studies Lecturer at Keene State College (KSC) Karen Seaver said, “Skunks, crows and herons are all predators to amphibian species.” One predator to amphibians that most may not think of are humans, specifically our cars.
Since 2006, according to Brett Thelen, science director of the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory, the citizen science arm of the Harris Center for Conservation Education, and other volunteers have helped over “31,000 amphibians reach their breeding pools” with the help of the Salamander Crossing Brigade.
Now in the eleventh year of the program in the Monadnock region, the program was first started from a similar program in Brattleboro, Vermont years ago, said Thelen. When asked the significance of the event, Thelen said, “This event helps amphibians, such as salamanders and frogs, move safely across the road from oncoming traffic during a critical time in their life cycle in order to mate and reproduce.”
As few as 15 cars an hour can present a significant mortality rate to the amphibians during their migration across the road. According to Seaver, “We can help prevent this.” Seaver stated, “It is our responsibility to them; we were the ones who put roads in their way.”
According to Seaver, “In order to have conditions for vernal pools, there must be lack of snow cover, warm temperatures over 40 degrees and rain. All three of these result in what is called a big night.” Seaver said big nights are a “fun opportunity for the public to do science.”
College students are greatly appreciated, according to Seaver. It is “easier for students to move quickly to stop cars for salamanders, which makes it easier on the older volunteers.”
Thelen said professors and students have been “incredibly supportive of this project and others.” Each year, around 12-20 students get involved, helping keep count of all species moved across roads.
Senior at KSC Seanna Flynn, is a site coordinator for the crossing brigade and said she “helps set up cones, makes sure [the] street is well-marked and gets to inform the public of the event.” Flynn first started working with the program two years ago and since then has gotten friends involved as well.
According to Flynn, the program provides her “good cover letter experience when applying for jobs and is the best way to volunteer for your local community.” During our talk, Flynn reminisced upon past interactions with the public and mentioned she “loves hearing the reactions from people driving by.”
Why should people care about amphibians? If you were to ask Seaver and Thelen, they would tell you that salamanders and frogs help kill pests and attribute to the food web, serving a “huge ecological role.”
Amphibians eat bug larvae, especially mosquitos. A strong presence of bug-eating amphibians can greatly reduce the amount of mosquitos during summer months. When asked the significance of amphibians, Thelen said, “Toads eat three times their body weight in insects each day.”
Thelen mentioned the program is a fantastic opportunity with great fun during “Magical nights.” The impact KSC students have is highly appreciated, according to Thelen. “[It’s] always good to have energetic students; they stay out later than most and deal with high traffic sites that are not the safest. [It] helps keep families out of harm’s way.”
Seaver stressed the animals are “all friendly amphibians, [so there’s] no need to worry,” and that, “If they could croak out a thank you, they would.”
According to Thelen, “On these rainy treacherous nights, once you see the animals, people will not want to drive as much. If you don’t have to drive during these nights, please do not.” For any questions, please contact 603-358-2065 for the latest salamander forecast.
John Piatelli can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org