Big Night Cometh to a Roadside Near You: How to Help

Why did the wood frog cross the road? To make beautiful music

One of the first signs of imminent spring is so-called “Big Night” which is not, in fact, a movie about crazy Italians, but rather an exciting and somewhat terrifying (for the little amphibians) experience as they migrate from their upland overwintering habitat to their spring breeding grounds. Actually, I don’t know if little beasties feel terror, but I feel it for them as they negotiate bright headlights and dark asphalt in their dash, hop and crawl to happy times in the bogs.

The following post is written in its entirety by Michele Grzenda, former Conservation Administrator for Weston, and current Conservation Director for Lincoln. Her departure from Weston almost caused an insurmountable breech between me and my second favorite town with which I share a property line. Forgiveness is in my nature however, so back to Michele’s write-up of the amphibs, shall we anon?

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“Big Night” is often used to describe the annual ritual of certain frogs and salamanders when they migrate from their upland overwintering habitat towards their spring breeding ground.  During Big Night, you have a chance of seeing spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and other amphibians heading towards a vernal pool (generally a small pond or wetland which dries up in the summer months and does not support fish populations).

When will Big Night occur?  It is always hard to predict as it generally happens on the first few rainy nights in March and early April when the night temperature is above 40 degrees. Most years, there is not just one “Big Night”, but rather lots of smaller movements (“Many Little Nights” doesn’t sound as exciting as “Big Night”).  Even though the snow lingers here around Lincoln (and Weston), towns just south of here are already hearing frogs and seeing some salamander migration.  With temperatures warming and wet weather on its way, we are only days away from the excitement.

Big Night is bitter-sweet to many naturalists.  It is fun to see the amphibians on the move, however, in a landscape bisected by a network of roads, it often means that these small creatures risk their lives crossing onto pavement each year.  The best we can hope for is that Big Night happens late at night, when most cars are off the roads. 

Yellow-spotted salamander, apparenty confused on directional plan

What you can do

Consider visiting a roadway on a rainy night looking for migrating salamanders.  If you live near a vernal pool, you will know that there are going to be some visiting amphibians.

Common sense precautions you should take if you are trying to help amphibian crossings:

  • Find a spot to park well before you reach the wetland crossing.
  • Wear reflective vests or clothing if possible.
  • Have multiple flashlights and be very careful looking where you walk – you don’t want to step on a frog and salamander!
  • Keep young children next to you and show them how to look with a flashlight before walking.
  • Assume vehicles do not see you and stay off the road when they approach.
  • Wear warm, weather resistant clothing and shoes.
  • Be sure no chemicals are on your hands (e.g. bug spray, hand sanitizer, soap) – if you plan on helping an amphibian cross a road.
Handle only if totally necessary

Amphibians do not like to be handled so in most cases simply observe them.  If vehicle headlights are in the distance and there is a frog or salamander in the road, please move it off the road in the direction it is heading.  Moisten hands if possible, in a puddle before handling it to minimize disturbance to their skin.  You are likely to see (yellow) spotted salamanders (which can be 9” long), wood frogs, spring peepers, and American toads.  And there is always a possibility of a rarer sighting, such as a blue-spotted salamander. 

Once you experience first-hand the activity on these special nights you will certainly understand the concern we have for these small creatures.  On all rainy nights in spring and summer there is considerable activity on the roadways so please keep that in mind as you are out on any roadway.  Be safe but try to give them a chance at survival. 

To learn more about Amphibians, Vernal Pools, and Big Night, check out www.Vernalpool.org

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Thanks, Michele!! See you on the roadside, I imagine!

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