NH Press: Caution salamanders X-ing
This is a Press Information page entitled NH Press: Caution salamanders X-ing within the Press / News Items section of Caudata.org --- BROOKLINE JOURNAL (New Hampshire) 11 April 08 Caution salamanders X-ing (Marc Smith) They tend not to follow designated crosswalks and have little defense against oncoming ...
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Our Roving Correspondent
NH Press: Caution salamanders X-ing
BROOKLINE JOURNAL (New Hampshire) 11 April 08 Caution salamanders X-ing (Marc Smith)
They tend not to follow designated crosswalks and have little defense against oncoming vehicle traffic, nonetheless salamanders are making their way across New Hampshire roadways in droves.
The warm and wet weather of early spring is the mating season for the yellow-spotted salamander, a period that tends to last between one to two weeks.
The animals emerge from underground lairs beneath logs, stones or other forest debris — where much of their lives are spent — and march to vernal pools — temporary collections of water — looking for a mate.
In the process of mating, the males leave droplets called spermatophores, along the edges of the vernal pools. The female salamanders nestle up to the spermatophores with their underbody to achieve fertilization and then lay egg masses to develop in the vernal pools and return to their homes in the ground.
Gerald Coffey of Hollis, a salamander enthusiast, is surprised that many people are unaware of these abundant creatures.
“One thing that is so interesting to me is that there are these very unusual and unique creatures all around the Hollis and Brookline area, and so many people have never even seen them,” he said.
There are 12 known species of salamander in New Hampshire, and the yellow-spotted is the most common. Coffey said the wealth of relatively untouched land in the Hollis and Brookline offer it prime habitat.
Over the last decade, Coffey — a high school math teacher — has analyzed local salamander activity and has spent nights searching for the creatures and documenting their travel patterns.
They typically leave their burrows once a year, on a wet and warm night, and set out on the mission to breed in a vernal pool.
Because they remain hidden underground for much of the year and usually only surface in the dark of night, they often go undetected.
But they are certainly out there, said Mike Marchand, a wildlife biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game, all you have to do is look. “If you search some relatively intact forest areas and you locate a vernal pool, you have a good shot of finding some of these species.”
The distance of migration to vernal pools can be up to a quarter mile, no easy expedition for this stubby-legged creature, he said. Often times these migratory paths intersect with public roadways, which can be deadly for the small animals.
Drivers may have difficulty seeing the tiny creatures, which Coffey said, resemble twigs, and they get caught where the rubber meets the road.
“We have a tendency to put roads on wet areas, so basically there are roads across salamander migration paths,” said Coffey. “I’ve gone out and counted 20 or 25 run over on certain roads.”
Migratory paths throughout Hollis, he has discovered, are across Rocky Pond Road, North Pepperell Road and parts of Worcester Road. “Basically any road that goes through a wet area, there is a good probability that you will see them.”
Some towns in Massachusetts have taken action to ensure that the migration routes are protected during the mating season; a few have gone as far to close roadways on nights when high salamander traffic is expected.
Neither Hollis nor Brookline has any such protection measures, however, Coffey has identified some of the salamander crossings with signs to make drivers aware.
He recommends that those driving on the warm, rainy nights of early and mid-April keep an eye out and yield for these tiny creatures as they take their annual journey.
* * * * *
State Rank Status: Widespread and secure.
Distribution: Throughout New Hampshire
Description: A large dark salamander measuring 4.5-7.5 inches. Has up to 50 round yellow or orange spots arranged irregularly down the back and sides. Base color is generally black or bluish-black.
Commonly Confused Species: Blue spotted salamander.
Habitat: Mixed woodlands with slow moving streams, swamps, or vernal pools. Adults spend their time underground or under logs, boards, or stones.
Life History: Warm spring nights trigger movements to breeding pools where jelly masses containing 100-200 eggs are attached to submerged sticks and vegetation. Usually breeds in pools that do not contain predatory fish. Hibernate in the ground or under rotting stumps.
Conservation Threats: Loss of upland and vernal pool habitat, road mortality during migratory seasons.
— NH Fish and Game
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