to Herpers: Amphibian Migration

Herpers, here in Salisbury we hosted one of our public education nights on Morgan Road last night. We had 43 people on site and monitored and moved amphibians for two hours from 8 AM to 10 AM. Despite the conditions looking very good with rain starting well before dark and temperatures around 40 F, we had surprisingly few amphibians to show off. Those of us who have been on that section of road during a busy night when literally thousands of amphibians crossed the road, wondered where they all were. Still, those people who attended found eight species of amphibian and there were plenty of happy kids and adults.

In our two hours we found 43 Blue-spotted Salamanders, 35 Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, 32 Four-toed Salamanders, six Spring Peepers, four Wood Frogs and one American Toad. This totals to 127 amphibians. Although only four cars drove through while we were there, sadly six amphibians were found dead on the road.

Steve Parren’s results and comments from Monkton were very similar to ours. We tossed around a number of theories regarding the relative lack of amphibians at Morgan Road. Was there some factor that we are unaware of that prevented a large migration? Had the soils dried out too much over the last couple days? Had most of the spring amphibians at these two locations moved already? Had the amphibians not received our e-mails telling them of our public event?

The fact that the first migration of the spring on Morgan Road occurred over four weeks ago on March 21st and that the Spring Peepers were calling from the Leicester River Swamp clearly meant that many amphibians had already crossed Morgan Road. The Blue-spotted Salamanders usually move before the Spring Peepers, and Wood Frogs call before the Spring Peepers, so perhaps the bulk of our early moving amphibians had already moved through. Still, we had not seen all that many Spotted Salamanders yet and although Wood Frog egg masses are now visible in the ponds, no one has yet reported any Spotted Salamander egg masses.

My leading theory is that most of the early spring amphibian movement has already taken place here in the Lake Champlain Basin. Even last year, most of the activity here had taken place by April 3rd. Interestingly it is just getting started in other parts of the state that were buried in snow. John J reports that amphibian activity is barely beginning in the Montpelier area and of course we have yet to see most of the American Toads, Gray Treefrogs and Eastern Newts even here in the valley.

Although fewer than expected, amphibians were still moving in other parts of the Lake Champlain Basin and Larry C found Four-toed Salamanders for the first time ever in Essex!

L. sylvaticus amplexing A. maculatum, © copyright 2019 Hannah Hill and used by permission

L. sylvaticus amplexing A. maculatum, © copyright 2019 Hannah Hill and used by permission

Hannah H found a Wood Frog catching a ride to the pool while amplexing a Spotted Salamander (see attached photo) and I suspect many reports are yet to come in.

In the ectothermic reptile category, I have received reports of both Eastern Ratsnakes and Eastern Milksnakes here in the basin. Both of these species don’t emerge until it is quite warm.

The picture will become clearer as additional reports come in. Keep on herpin!

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