The Salamander’s Safety Patrol

A spotted salamander prepares to cross the road in New Haven, Vt., on Sunday, March 22. [Source: AP/NPR]
A spotted salamander prepares to cross the road in New Haven, Vt., on Sunday, March 22. [Source: AP/NPR]

What was it Loudon Wainwright sang? “You got your dead cat and you got your dead dog. On a moonlight night you got your dead toad-frog.” Well, not in Vermont, if some forward-thinking batrachian-lovers can help it. Now the question remains, will blind flaneurs accept such an escort service on rainy nights? Maybe in mating season.

According to the AP/NPR:

The black salamander with yellow spots sat on the roadside in the dark, ready to make a go of it.

But it was not on its own. It got help from an escort — one of 45 people who volunteered on a recent night to carry salamanders, frogs and newts across the road during their annual migration to mate.

On rainy nights in early spring, roads between forests and vernal pools are hopping and crawling with activity. On some nights, hundreds of amphibians cross small stretches of asphalt to mate. But many don’t make it.

From rural Vermont to urban centers like Philadelphia, human escorts, called bucket brigades in some places, help amphibians make it to their mating areas without getting squashed by cars. It’s part education, part conservation, and part science.

“It’s an extraordinary thing and people deserve to know about it,” said Warren King, a member of the Otter Creek Audubon Society, who organizes a crossing in Salisbury. “And it needs to be protected. There are sites where many of the critters that are crossing never make it.”

On a recent night, University of Vermont student Kaitlin Friedman walked with other volunteers along the asphalt with flashlights and clipboards, moving wood frogs, peepers, blue-spotted, red-backed and four-toed salamanders across the road, while jotting down how many they saw. They also kept count of vehicles, and the amphibians that didn’t make it, trying to identify the flattened carcasses.

“It’s pretty much the one time of year where you get to see a lot of salamanders in abundance and it’s just really cool,” said Friedman, 20, of Long Island, New York. “Plus, you know you help them across the road, you feel like maybe you’re making a small reduction in their mortality rates, maybe, just for that hour or so.” Read more.

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