It’s the migration of the yellow-spotted salamander, a hefty amphibian with a purple, yellow-spotted body that can grow to nine inches long. It’s always a great surprise to people when they see their first yellow-spotted salamander, to learn these striking creatures have been living alongside them all along. But most people will never see a yellow-spotted salamander. There’s usually only one chance per year to spot one, and it comes on a warmish rainy night sometime at the end of winter.
When the conditions are right, the salamanders—along with an assortment of frogs and toads—emerge from their muddy winter homes somewhere in the forest and make a dash to the nearest vernal pool, where they will mate and lay eggs.
A vernal pool is a temporary pond; usually it exists only in the spring and disappears at some point during the summer. The fact that it’s temporary is very important to the amphibians, as it means that there will be no hungry fish in the pond. Fish like to eat frog, toad and salamander eggs.
A problem for the amphibians, at least in the past 100 years, is that many human roads have been built between their wintering grounds and the vernal pools they rely on. During migrations, the crushed bodies of salamanders, frogs and toads, run over by cars, can be found littering the roadways.
This year, for the first time, the Mercer County Naturalist’s office is organizing a group of volunteers to help the amphibians cross the road and reach the vernal pool on Howell’s Farm property, as well as at other migration sites in the Sourlands. Knowing when the amphibians will be on the move usually comes at the last moment.
Tonight looks promising in some ways, as it’s warm and expected to start raining this afternoon and continue into the evening. But on the downside, the vernal pool is still covered in a thin layer of ice. I haven’t any idea if this is an acceptable state of affairs for a salamander.