Salamander Crossing

April 21, 2019, 8:59 PM

Conditions: Rainy, Wet


A spotted salamander crawls slowly over dead leaves and diverts its course around trees. In the distance, the collective sound of spring peepers rings from the salamander’s destination. Reaching a road, the salamander continues moving. Suddenly, a bright light illuminates the road, and the salamander pauses. A warm-blooded creature picks it up, and the salamander is carried to the other edge of the road. The light moves away, and unperturbed, the salamander moves on.


Every year in springtime, spotted salamanders migrate by the dozen to local pools, leaving behind their homes in the woods. One of the complications that makes it difficult is the presence of roads.


Jim Andrews, the coordinator of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, which started rescuing salamanders about forty years ago, says that there is only a small chance of a salamander getting across a busy road alone.


“One of the things we have done, and [when] I say ‘we’ I mean humans, is that we’ve put all sorts of obstacles in their way,” Andrews says. A single salamander takes five or six minutes to cross a busy road, so it is likely to be crushed by a car. Many people have taken it upon themselves to help these creatures.


Katy Farber, author of children’s book Salamander Sky, says that she has been rescuing salamanders ever since she first saw one. “When we moved to our home in Middlesex, I was out helping frogs and saw my first spotted salamander and found [it] delightful,” she says. She also says that she was upset by the number of salamanders that had been hit by vehicles.


“We have screwed them up in many places,” says Wendy Knapp, who has taken care of a crossing on Zdon Road in Middlesex for upwards of twenty years. “It behooves us to give them assistance.”

A spotted salamander crosses a road.


One of the reasons people help them is their uniqueness among salamanders. Spotted salamanders are a species of mole salamanders, and according to Andrews, “they have lungs, which makes them different from many… other salamanders.”


So, how does one recognize a salamander if they wish to help? “They’re big, eight or nine inches long… black with bright yellow spots,” Andrews says. “They catch people’s attention.”


“They have yellow spots!” says Knapp. “Two rows… down their backs, head to tail.”


So, if you want to help, what do you do?


Physically picking them up isn’t the only way to help. “In some places… we have created underpasses and fences to guide the amphibians under the road,” says Andrews. “And they are working well.”


“I don’t usually assist unless there is car traffic,”says Knapp.“ Just watch them crawl on.”

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