‘Big Night’: Vermont’s Amphibious Secret

This article was written by Evie Moore, a Senior in the Journalism class. 

 

Chris Slesar’s first ‘Big Night’ was in early April 2005. Cars were flying by on Monkton road late at night. The rain was frigid. Slesar and other volunteers wandered out onto the road, on the hunt for cold amphibians.

 

Slesar is the environmental resources coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Transportation.  

 

He said that while most people know the common amphibians of Vermont, like wood frogs, peepers, and newts, the Monkton site is special for its diversity of amphibians. These include spotted salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders, four-toed salamanders, Jefferson salamanders, and Jefferson-blue-spotted hybrids.

 

Spotted Salamander Photo by Author Portal Rd. Middlesex Vermont 

 

The onslaught of traffic at the site proved tricky for the volunteers.

 

“Even with a handful of people out there, 50% of the animals were getting killed,” Slesar said. “This isn’t sustainable.”

 

‘Big Night’ is largely unknown to the general public. On the first rainy night above freezing in early April, amphibians move across busy roads to water bodies where they will live for the summer. However, as Vermont becomes increasingly developed, amphibian migration is in danger. 

 

Wood Frog Photo by Author Portal Rd. Middlesex Vermont

 

While a simple solution could have been to close down the roads, it wasn’t feasible, due to a lack of available detours in rural Vermont. Outside of his job, Slesar decided to move forward with the idea of an infrastructure fix.

 

In Monkton in 2011, Slesar created funnels for culverts that encourage amphibians to move underneath the road instead of crossing over it. Slesar and his grassroots team in Monkton raised money and hired a contractor to build two wildlife crossing culverts. These culverts include concrete fencing to keep the animals off of the road and direct them into the culverts. He also rigged cameras to take one picture a minute starting 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise. The cameras captured tens of thousands of photos and counted over 2,000 animals per year.

 

Sean Beckett is another ‘Big Night’ advocate. As the Director of natural history programs and community science at the North Branch Nature Center, Beckett is more focused on community awareness and volunteer outreach rather than on changing infrastructure.

 

Beckett runs programs that educate the community on ‘Big Night’ and how they can help. He asks volunteers to collect information about what types of amphibians are crossing and where. He reports this information to state and local governments so they can place culverts or try to close roads for periods of time when amphibians are on the move.

 

Spotted Salamander Photo by Author Portal Rd. Middlesex Vermont

 

 “People have been doing amphibian rescue for a long time,” Beckett said, “but now we have a lot more information about places that we never did before.”

 

To Slesar and Beckett the best part of getting the community involved is the magic that comes from this event. “There are these big salamanders that you only ever see in April, as there’s pouring rain in the dirt,” Beckett said.“It’s like this hidden secret.” 

 

As the time of year for ‘Big Night’ rolls around again, the best way for anyone to contribute is to locate nearby bodies of water, go out with a headlamp, and move any amphibian across the road. People should always wash their hands and only move amphibians in the direction they’re already pointed in. After all, they’re the true experts of ‘Big Night’.

 

Monkton Culvert Amphibians Video by Chris Slesar Monkton Rd. Monkton, Vermont

One thought on “‘Big Night’: Vermont’s Amphibious Secret”

  1. GREAT article, Evie!!! Thank you so much for your research and helping raise awareness of these beautiful and important animals. They are like the canaries in our ecosystem. ( blue, 3 legged frogs are NOT the norm! ) And the word is spreading! There was a wonderful article in Smithsonian Magazine April/May edition also.

    Hope you keep interested and spreading the word! This ol’ lady need some youth to hand the torch to :)))

    Thanks again ! Wendy Knapp, Zdon Rd. Middlesex, aka The Lizard Lady

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