Conserve Wildlife Blog

Amphibians on the Move!

March 15th, 2011

By Karena DiLeo, Assistant Biologist

Jefferson Salamander, a species of special concern in New Jersey, crossing to its breeding pools. Photo by MacKenzie Hall.

Well, it’s that time of year again.  As the temperature slowly climb and the ground thaws with spring rains, New Jersey amphibians emerge from their upland habitat and begin their long and increasingly treacherous journey to their spring breeding pools.

This March marked my first official amphibian migration night with Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s Amphibian Crossing Project.  As always, any potential migration night begins with frantic checking for weather updates, a call to volunteers to suit up and meet us at rescue sites, early arrival to set up road signs and safety equipment, and hoping the rains continue…we wait.  We wait as rush hour begins, the traffic steadily increasing as dusk falls, and then it happens: one by one, we spot wood frogs and spotted salamanders on the road edges- hesitating to leave the coverage of the forest almost like they know the roads bisecting their ancestral migration paths may prove an impassable barrier.

This past Thursday, our destination was a rescue site on East Shore Drive in Stillwater Township.  With the help of dedicated volunteers, including boy scouts from local Patriots Path Council, we patrolled almost 250 meters of roadway and rescued 572 frogs, salamanders, and newts in just 2 ½ hours—that’s 229 amphibians per hour!  Within this short span of time we also waved 70 cars through- most of which seemed oblivious to natural phenomenon taking place under their wheels.

Dedicated volunteers patrol roadway. From left to right: Diane Gonski, Doug Hankin, Wayne Bancroft, Eckhardt Debbert, and Paul Cook. Photo by Phil Wooldridge.

By 10pm, migration had slowed and more importantly traffic had too.  So it was on to the next site.  MacKenzie and I wanted to check out how a site on a busy road faired in Liberty Township.  The results were disheartening—within a narrow corridor we saw at least 50 dead frogs and salamanders littering the road.  During the hour we patrolled, 50 spotted salamanders were counted (and moved) trying to cross a road with still significant traffic at 11pm at night.

Wood frog dead on road. Photo by MacKenzie Hall.

If  hundreds of amphibians died within hours in this narrow corridor- imagine how many thousands are killed throughout the state each rainy spring night.  Each individual’s death marks a loss to the population but with females carrying between 200 and 2,000 eggs it marks a significant loss not only to their species future generations but also to the ecosystem as an important food source to other animals.

I knew the importance of amphibian migration and the potential extirpation populations were facing due to roads- I had seen other migration nights but I had never before seen the mass mortalities on a single road.  So please on the next rainy spring night, leave your car in your driveway and instead grab a flashlight and see what you can find or contact CWF and become one of our dedicated Amphibian Crossing volunteers!

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