A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Right Around the Corner: The Great Amphibian Migration

Get trained as a “salamander crosser” and take this quiz on amphibians.
Spotted Salamander.

It may be late-winter, but if you’re a fan of amphibians, you’re already thinking about spring.

The Harris Center for Conservation Education is planning for this spring’s big amphibian migration by training volunteers to serve on salamander crossing brigades. AVEO – the Harris Center’s citizen science arm – will train citizen scientists March 13 in Keene and March 29 in Hancock in collecting data on amphibian migration and safely moving frogs and salamanders from the roads. For details check
In the last six years, AVEO-trained crossing brigades have saved more than 15,000 amphibians from death by automobile!

So, in honor of the great work by AVEO and the eons of migrations by frogs and salamanders, here’s a little quiz on amphibians.

  1.       The spotted salamanders’ annual migration to breeding pools is signaled by:
a.       The first full moon in March;
b.      The first maple sap runs;
c.       The first warm, rainy or humid nights in late-winter, early spring
d.      An internal clock set to March 30.

  2.       Wood frogs, grey tree frogs and spring peepers manage to survive the winter by:
a.       Migrating to southern states for a few months;
b.      Freezing solid, thanks to cell walls protected by natural antifreeze;
c.       Staying in the deepest parts of lakes and ponds;
d.      Laying low and conserving energy.

  3.       Red efts, the bright orange creatures commonly seen on land during the warm months, especially after a rain, are:
a.       Our region’s only true lizard;
b.      Unusual for amphibians, because they live their entire lives on land;
c.       An endangered species;
d.      The juvenile phase of red-spotted newts, which live in water as adults.

  4.       If you’ve ever seen spotted salamander eggs in a vernal pool, you may have noticed a green glow all over them. This green glow is:
a.       A toxic slime to deter predators;
b.      An algae that will ultimately kill the eggs;
c.       An algae that produces oxygen, helping the embryos to breathe;
d.      A slime that neither helps nor hurts the eggs.

  5.       Spring peepers, one of our surest signs of spring, are loud because they:
a.       Have a vocal sac in their chin that expands when they peep;
b.      Are excited that it’s time to breed;
c.       A and B;
d.      Have tiny microphones that amplify their voices. 

  6.       If they’re not hit by cars during migration, spotted salamanders can live:
a.       Most of their lives in streams;
b.      For up to 3 years;
c.       For up to 20 years;
d.      For up to 75 years.

  7.       Wood frogs, peepers and spotted salamanders eat:
a.       Lots of mosquito larvae, fairy shrimp and other small creatures;
b.      Shoots, grass and leaves;
c.       Small fish;
d.      Pretty much anything. They’re omnivores.

  1.       C, generally the first warm, rainy nights in late-winter or early spring.

  2.       B, freezing solid, thanks to cell walls protected by natural antifreeze. If you said D, you’re technically correct, so you get the credit.

  3.       D, the juvenile phase of red-spotted newts.

  4.       C, an algae that produces oxygen, helping the embryos to breathe. In fact, recent research suggests that algae also helps adult salamanders breathe through their skin.

  5.       C, a and b. They have a vocal sac that expands in their chin, and they’re excited that it’s breeding season. [Some of them sit on logs too, so you might want to make that option more outlandish, to rule it out. I included one possible suggestion above.

  6.       C, for up to 20 years.

  7.       B, mosquito larvae and fairy shrimp, especially by larval salamanders.
To learn how you can train to join AVEO’s Salamander Crossing Brigade, visit

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.