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News Watch for amphibians on the road

This spring, be mindful of amphibians as they emerge from their winter retreats and travel to breeding sites. Use caution while driving on rainy spring nights.
2/28/2020
  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
  • MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program

Media Contact for Watch for amphibians on the road

Marion Larson, MassWildlife

Eastern spadefoot on the road

For many Massachusetts residents, spring rain is a reminder of the changing seasons. Time to put away winter gear and break out your Red Sox attire. For smaller Massachusetts natives, like amphibians, spring rains signal it’s time to emerge from winter retreats and migrate to breeding sites. Unfortunately, many of those animals will face the daunting task of having to cross roads to reach their destinations. Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, blue-spotted salamanders, Jefferson salamanders, American toads, spring peepers, four-toed salamanders, northern leopard frogs, and eastern red-backed salamanders are frequently encountered on roads during early spring rains. Weather is always difficult to predict in New England, but so far it appears that migrations may start as soon as early March for some pool-breeding amphibians this year.

These animals can be difficult to see, as they are generally small-bodied and move under the cover of dark. This spring, please be mindful of our amphibians and our natural heritage.

How you can help:

  • Please drive cautiously and carefully.
  • Whenever possible over the next 2 months, please consider not driving on rainy nights when air temperatures are 40°F or higher. If you must travel during such conditions, delaying beyond the first 2 hours after sunset is recommended.
  • Travel on larger highways rather than small, wooded roads if possible. Plan routes that minimize the number of wetlands or vernal pools passed.
  • If observing amphibian migrations, consider arriving at your destination prior to sunset, and then conduct your monitoring on foot.
  • If assisting amphibians across roadways or handling them for other reasons, be sure your hands are free of lotions, bug repellent, or other chemicals.
  • Report high levels of amphibian activity or mortality to the Linking Landscapes for Massachusetts Wildlife initiative, which compiles data to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on problem roadways.
  • If you encounter any of our state-listed rare amphibian species (eastern spadefoot, blue-spotted salamander, Jefferson salamander, and marbled salamander), please take a clear photograph of the animal, carefully record the location, and submit an observation report to MassWildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.
  • Go the extra mile to help preserve amphibian habitat by certifying vernal pools on your property. The data you collect is used to help MassWildlife and local conservation organizations better understand habitat resources for our native amphibians.

Winter 2020 in much of eastern Massachusetts has been virtually snowless and water levels in many wetlands have been dropping. So far, it appears our pool-breeding amphibians could be in for a combination of an early start and relatively dry conditions. As eggs and hatched larvae typically need 2–3 months of water to develop to metamorphosis, a droughty spring can spell trouble. As usual, MassWildlife biologists and their partners will be working to monitor amphibian migrations, survey for rare species, and document breeding effort.

The timing of amphibian migrations to breeding pools in Massachusetts each spring can vary by weeks, up to over a month. In 2015, when repeated snowstorms and persistently cold weather occurred in February and March, salamanders and frogs in most regions of the state had to wait until the first week of April to get moving. In 2016, migrations commenced at a more “normal” time during mid-March, but many areas were experiencing drought, and water levels in vernal pools and other wetlands were unusually low. There was plenty of water in 2017 and 2018, but unusually warm air temperatures triggered false starts to spring in southeastern Massachusetts. Migrations commenced during the last week of February those years, and then multi-week super-freezes wreaked havoc on the early breeding attempts, killing eggs and delaying the true start to spring. During late March 2019, rains were persistently cold—right around the threshold for amphibian activity—and migrations were slow to materialize. Time will tell whether 2020 turns out to be another challenging year.

Blue-spotted salamander

 

Media Contact for Watch for amphibians on the road

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 

MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.

MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program 

The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program is responsible for the conservation and protection of hundreds of species that are not hunted, fished, trapped, or commercially harvested in the state, as well as the protection of the natural communities that make up their habitats.
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