Saturday, February 25, 2012

Endangered or Just In Danger Amphibians and Reptiles

A yellow spotted salamander changing lanes

If the unusually warm weather and crocuses blooming in your garden haven't been harbingers of spring, then note that the amphibian migration has begun across a good part of New Jersey.

With the rain yesterday being just about the right temperature, some eager salamanders and frogs are moving to their breeding pools.

Unfortunately, our "Garden State" is also a highway state and crossing is quite dangerous for those creatures. There are some people out there helping out, but keep a watchful eye when driving on rainy nights if you can.

An article in The New York Times, "Bucket Brigade Gives a Lift So Salamanders Can Live to Mate", describes one group of "salamander people" in Mississippi  are out on these rainy, early spring nights scooping up salamanders to help them cross the road. These "herpers" who search for and aid the amphibians or reptiles do their part to try to protect endangered, threatened and just plain in danger creatures.

Some salamanders can live up to 30 years, so they have been down this road (well, really, across this road) before. But they procreate only once a year.

I have written earlier here about similar projects in New Jersey. Saving other, more lovable species might be easier to get attention, volunteers and funding.

The NJDEP, Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP), the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, and the NJ Audubon Society have been partners on the Amphibian Crossing Survey Project. Since 2002, they have been working to protect early-spring breeding amphibians like the wood frog, spotted salamander, jefferson salamander, and spring peeper during their annual migrations, which often lead them across perilous roadways. Volunteers help monitor sites in northern NJ (resources are limited, so that has been the focus area) particularly Warren, Passaic and Morris County. But they also help to identify additional crossings throughout the state.

A single vehicle can crush dozens of the slow-moving animals as they try to cross the road during migration. For example, some major amphibian road-crossings occur in West Milford in Passaic county. On rainy evenings from late February through March, teams of volunteers will be serving as “Crossing Guards” - slowing traffic, moving amphibians across the road, and collecting data about the migration.

According to the ENSP, amphibians are regarded by many scientists as indicators of a region's health and as the first indicators to harmful environmental changes such as pollutants and higher aquatic temperatures. Basically, if we see problems in the amphibian community, it’s just a matter of time before larger organisms (such as birds, mammals, and humans) will be affected as well.

Amphibian populations are declining worldwide as a result of a number of factors, including water pollution, increased pesticide use, and habitat loss, which is the most significant factor for all of New Jersey's species of conservation concern.

Amphibians depend on both terrestrial and aquatic habitats throughout their life cycles. The loss of forests and wetland habitats, including clearing forests, filling in vernal pools, and development that leads to changes in the water table that dry out critical wetlands, only add to these critters’ plight.

Finally, fragmentation of habitat can also play a critical role in the demise of an amphibian population as they attempt to travel from one area to another. Amphibians become easy prey targets in open habitats (lawns, driveways, roads) and at barriers such as curbs and fences that are often impossible to cross.

A spotted salamander being helped across a road.

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has assembled a resource package to help teachers educate students about New Jersey's reptiles and amphibians. The package includes the Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of NJ and Calls of NJ Frogs and Toads CD, and a teacher's guide full of activities and lesson plans for grades 5-9. The activities are correlated to the state's Core Curriculum Content Standards.

Resource Package Flyer and Order Form (pdf)

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