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Big Night! It’s All About Timing

April 1, 2023

Debra Orado, Witherle Memorial Children’s Librarian

I am crossing my fingers that we can finally say goodbye to Winter.  April conjures early signs of spring, the snowdrops and crocus pop up, and our favorite song birds return to our feeders on their way North. While April showers bring May flowers, it also brings with it a menagerie of frogs, salamanders, and toads that emerge from their winter burrows to jump-start the season. These amphibians – the spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and others – are anxious to get to their breeding pools and lay their eggs. I fondly remember my children in the car and them pleading for me to roll down the windows as we drove home on spring evenings. We were always greeted by a chorus of sharp whistles or peeps as the car swerved all over the road trying not to hit the many frogs crossing the road on their way to their breeding pool.

These amphibians wait for rain and temperatures in the 40’s as they emerge from the winter when their bodies are basically frozen. They head out of the leaf matter and begin their trek to vernal pools or in our case a swamp fed by a stream.  Vernal pools are bodies of water that fill up with rainwater, snowmelt, and rising groundwater in early spring but then dry up with the change in season and cannot support fish which means fewer predators to eat their eggs and young. While these pools are excellent breeding grounds, they are only temporary. It is literally a race against time, as the newest amphibians must complete their metamorphosis and leave before the pool dries up in the summer. This is quite a feat!

Amphibians are struggling worldwide according to Greg Le Claire, the founder of Maine’s Big Night. Recent studies show that half of all the amphibians face extinction due to climate change, chemicals, disease and habitat loss.  While the prognosis in Maine might not be as dire, the northern leopard frog has been labeled by Maine’s Inland and Wetlands as a “special concern.” A species becomes of “special concern” when it does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become endangered or threatened. This is where you come in!

It all comes back to timing… darkness, temperatures in the 40’s, thawing, and rain must all come together so that these creatures can cautiously and and inconspicuously move across land so that predators don’t spy them. Habitat loss aside, many frogs, salamanders, and toads must now challenge traffic in order to get where they need to go.

Most of us will never notice them. As they navigate interstates and busy roads mortality rates grow, decreasing the population of these creatures each year. Enter Maine’s Big Night to the rescue.  Volunteers from around the state gather to not only help provide safe passage for these amphibians but are part of the Citizen Science Project that records numbers and types. This group is now thousands strong and still in need of volunteers right here in Hancock County . Click this link to find out how you can become a volunteer and an ambassador for the Wood Frog, Spotted Salamander, or Blue-spotted Salamander. Register to join the volunteers that help these harbingers of spring complete their life cycle .