Big Night Amphibian Migration

Big Night…. the first warm rainy night of the spring….might be one of the best kept secret in the amphibian world!

Ambystoma maculatum, yellow spotted salamander, kids big night

After hibernating all winter, salamanders, newts and frogs take advantage of the first few warm rainy nights of the spring to move from their usual haunts under leaves, rocks and logs and head to vernal pools to mate. Ambystoma maculatum, or the yellow spotted salamander, is the star of the show here in the Eastern US. They head to the same vernal pool year after year, so destruction of these pools by development or logging is a big concern.

Ambystoma maculatum, yellow spotted salamander, big night kids

Yellow spotted salamanders will travel about 100 meters to their pool (1), and oftentimes this path crosses a road. If you see someone standing on the side of the road on a warm, wet spring night with flashlight in hand, they very well may be helping salamanders cross. It’s a great experience for kids, learning about amphibian life cycles and conservation efforts all while staying up well past their bedtimes, which makes it extra fun!

Have you ever seen a random pocket of water with no inlet or outlet while walking through the woods? Chances are, it was a vernal pool. They may dry up in the summer months, and they are home to spotted salamanders, wood frogs and fairy shrimp. Just like they sound, fairy shrimp are crustaceans about an inch long. Eubranchipus vernalis the the most common fairy shrimp species, but there are two other species that are not well documented. One of our spring goals? Find them! (find them we did! Check it out here!)

Ambystoma maculatum, yellow spotted salamander with few spots,mature, big night

Yellow spotted salamanders can live up to 20 years, and the spots fade as they get older. This guy has been around the block or, more accurately, across the road, a few times!

Plethodon cinereus, redback salamander, big night

Of course, yellow spotted salamanders are not all you may see on Big Night! Plethodon cinereus, or the redback salamander, is about three inches long and can be seen throughout the spring and summer at night, not just on Big Night (2).

Notophthalmus viridescens, Red spotted newt, big night

Notophthalmus viridescens, or the red spotted newt, is another salamander that is not limited to Big Night. This red spotted newt was about four inches long.

We are always on the look out for Ambystoma laterale, the blue spotted salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum, the Jefferson salamander, a hybrid of the two (there has been discussion as to whether A. laterale and A. jeffersonianum are actually seperate species), and Ambystoma opacum, the marbled salamander. While the yellow spotted salamanders are considered secure, the rest of the ‘mole salamanders’ are ranked in New Hampshire, and to find one would be significant. If you do, please report it!

Ambystoma maculatum, yellow spotted salamander, big night

Photo credit for this picture goes to my budding nature photographer, five year old Zach!

The Big Night amphibian migration is an event everyone should venture out for! Since the large majority of their life is spent underground, it’s the one chance per season to see the smiling face of a yellow-spotted salamander.




the dirty girl at dirty botany
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Bug worshiper.
Slime mold fanatic.
Macrophotographer in training.

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