Amphibian Migration: The Big Night

Spotted salamander

Every year on the first warm, rainy night in spring, a variety of frog and salamander species will make their spring commute to breeding pools. Signaled by the warm, moist conditions, these amphibians all seemingly emerge together on what is commonly called the “Big Night.” Even with snow and ice on the ground, these 6 to 8-inch Tiger, Spotted, and Marbled salamanders make their way across frozen earth, stone, and pavement, indicating the start of springtime activity. In our backyard, the Helderberg Escarpment provides one of the highest quality areas of herpetological activity in the northeast. For millions of years, amphibians have navigated from their winter home through wetlands to vernal breeding areas. With an increasing number of roadways and traffic in the area, the most immediate threat for migrating amphibians on the Big Night is getting hit by cars.

Spring peeper frog, photo by D. Gehring

Please be on the lookout for a variety of creatures along roadways—including volunteers who are helping migrating amphibians to cross these treacherous obstacles safely. A variety of programs exist for those who want to help with road crossings and observe these unique creatures. In previous years, organizations such as the Hudson River Estuary Program, Friends of Thatcher Park, and local Girl Scout Troops, have offered training and coordinated volunteer efforts on the Big Night. These programs are the best way for new volunteers to get involved. Being a part of a large group helps to cover more area and also extends resources to safely handle both oncoming traffic (reflective vests and cones) and the amphibians themselves (proper handling with wet hands, collecting data, and carrying them in the direction they’re going).

The actual date of the Big Night varies as nature has its own calendar. With temperature and climate conditions further in flux (part of a significant worldwide amphibian decline), it can be increasingly challenging to be ready for the migration. Attending training and keeping up to date on resources is the best way to be prepared as a participant or traveler along roads. Keep an eye on the weather, and stay vigilant while driving! Many folks help independently on the frontage of their property–be on the lookout for pedestrians and signage along roadways. Please help to keep our neighbors and amphibian friends safe by spreading the word about the springtime migration. You can find additional resources on the Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings website through the NY DEC, https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/51925.html.

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