Frequently Asked Questions

Get the Skinny on Salamanders (…and Frogs too!)

What’s “Big Night”? When will the salamanders migrate? Can my kids join the Crossing Brigades? Why did the salamander cross the road, anyway? Get the answers to all your pressing questions here!


Amphibian Migration

  • What is "Big Night"?

    On the first rainy, warm nights of spring, thousands of spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and other amphibians travel to vernal pools and other wetlands to breed. This migration is known as “Big Night” — though it rarely occurs on just one evening. Most years, “Big Night” is actually one or two Big Nights, a few Medium-Sized Nights, and a Small Night here or there, which can take place anytime from mid-March to early May in the Monadnock Region.

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  • When will the salamanders migrate?

    Every year, we hear from hopeful salamander enthusiasts who want to make sure they’ve got the migration blocked out on their calendars ahead of time. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The spring amphibian migration is entirely weather-dependent: it occurs on the first warm (above 40° F), rainy nights of spring, after the snowpack has melted. Because the weather conditions that spur amphibian migrations are so site-specific — particularly temperature and spring snow depth — Big Night often occurs at different times in different places. Though April is prime time, migrations have occurred anytime from early March through mid-May in the Monadnock Region. During salamander season, we notify folks of upcoming migrations via our five-day salamander forecast and our Salamander Crossing Brigade email list. (You can sign up for the email list here.)

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  • How late into the night does the migration go?

    Amphibians will migrate all night long if the conditions are right. However, amphibian activity will slow to a stop if the ground dries or the temperature dips below 40° F — as often happens early in the season.

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  • Why did the salamander cross the road?

    Most spring-migrating amphibians spend much of their lives on or under the forest floor, dining on insects and doing their best to steer clear of the many predators who would like to dine on them. In the spring, however, they must leave the woods and migrate to their breeding wetlands to court and lay eggs. These species typically return to the same breeding pools year after year; in many cases, it’s the very pool where they themselves were born. When a road runs between the woods where they live and the wetlands where they breed, they must cross it simply to get from one to the other.

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  • I've never even seen a roadkilled salamander. Is roadkill really a problem?

    Yes, it really is. Amphibians are small, soft-bodied, and nocturnal, which means that amphibian roadkill can be exceptionally difficult to see. By the time morning comes, most of the amphibians who were killed by cars the night before have either been crushed beyond recognition or scavenged by crows. Scientific studies reveal the depth of the problem: one study in eastern Canada recorded 32,000 dead amphibians over the course of just four seasons on a two-mile stretch of road; a study in New York State found that 50 to 100% of salamanders attempting to cross a paved rural road did not survive the trek; and researchers in western Massachusetts determined that local extinction of spotted salamanders could happen in as few as 25 years, due solely to road mortality. It doesn’t take a lot of cars to do a lot of damage, especially on spring migration nights, when thousands of amphibians can be on the road at the same time.

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  • Salamanders are cute and all, but what's the big deal? Why should I care?

    Amphibians are wildly important to the health of our forests. Several different studies have found that the biomass of salamanders in Northern forests is greater than that of all the breeding birds and small mammals combined, which means that an incredible amount of energy is moving through our forests in the bodies of amphibians. They’re particularly important for their role in the food web, as voracious predators of insects and as food for hawks, owls, herons, turkeys, fox, coyotes, and more. They may also play in important role in carbon sequestration. (The New York Times went so far as to call them “climate change heroes.”)

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Salamander Crossing Brigades

  • Is this a safe activity for kids?

    Big Night is not an inherently family-friendly activity. Driving visibility is dramatically reduced on the rainy, foggy nights when amphibian migrations take place, and drivers may not expect to see pedestrians in the roadway. Safety is paramount, and parents need to take extra precautions to keep young Crossing Brigadiers safe and sound. First and foremost, wait until your children are elementary school-aged — and know how to be safe around traffic — before taking them to amphibian road crossings. Scope out your crossing site ahead of time to make sure it’s family-friendly (wide shoulders, good visibility, street lights, slower-moving traffic). On Big Night, make sure everyone in your group is wearing a reflective vest. And maintain a 1:1 adult: child ratio at all times, with the primary responsibility of each adult being the safety of their care.

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  • This sounds like a great activity for kids. Can you bring it to my local elementary school?

    Big Night can be a transformative experience for kids, and we have many families who return to participate in the Crossing Brigades year after year. Unfortunately, however, it does not lend itself well to a school setting. Migrations happen at night (after school hours) and are rarely predictable more than a day or two in advance (which can make planning difficult). In addition, for safety reasons, children must be accompanied in the field by their parents or another adult caregiver — and it’s important for those adults to attend a training in order understand how to keep themselves and their children safe — so bringing a Crossing Brigade training to a classroom during the school day, when only the children can attend, simply isn’t enough. There are some classroom teachers who go out of their way to make Big Night outings accessible to the families of students in their classes (which we applaud!) but, generally speaking, it’s not practical for us to include elementary schools in our Salamander Brigade program.

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  • I live in [fill in the blank] town. Which crossing is closest to me?

    We actively coordinate amphibian crossing efforts in Keene, Nelson, Peterborough, Swanzey, Westmoreland, and Winchester, NH, but we know of dozens more crossings. All of these sites, big and small, are featured on our online map of amphibian road crossings. Yellow salamanders indicate “tried and true” sites where you’re likely to encounter amphibians as well as other volunteers. Green frogs indicate sites for which we have limited information or which are tended by just one or two families in any given year. The best thing you can do for the salamanders is to drive less — or not at all — when amphibians are afoot, so we strongly encourage you to stick close to home on Big Nights. If there aren’t any mapped crossings in your neck of the woods, join us for a volunteer training; one of the things we cover is how to find amphibian road crossings in your town, and what to do once you’ve found them.

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  • Isn't handling amphibians harmful to them? I thought the oils on my hands could kill them.

    Our short-but-sweet answer: your hands do a lot less damage than a car tire! A more thoughtful response: it’s true that amphibians have porous skin and are therefore particularly sensitive to toxins and pollutants. However, the notion that the “natural oils on your hands” can harm amphibians is a misconception. While it’s not a good idea to handle any wild animal for an extended period of time, it’s safe to hold frogs and salamanders with clean, wet hands for the brief time it takes to move them across a road. That said, when handling amphibians, it is very important to make sure your hands are free of any chemicals or potential toxins, like bug spray, soap, perfume, or lotion. Latex gloves are okay too, as long as they’re powder-free.

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  • How late do Crossing Brigade volunteers stay out on Big Nights?

    Amphibians will migrate all night long if conditions are good, but we do not expect our volunteers to stay out until dawn! Generally, our Crossing Brigade volunteers are out from shortly after sunset until vehicle traffic slows — typically 10 or 11 p.m. Our motto is: come out if you can, and stay as long as you like.

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  • What kind of gear do I need to participate?

    Volunteers are responsible for providing their own raingear, reflective vests, flashlights, clipboards or notebooks, and pencils. Headlamps are recommended, but not required. You will also definitely want to bring a camera or phone with you, because salamanders are adorable and you’ll want to share pictures with all of your friends. Trust us on this.

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  • Do I really need a reflective vest?

    YES. Do not even think about going out to a salamander crossing without a reflective vest and bright light. We cannot emphasize this enough.

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  • Do you have a reflective vest I can borrow?

    Generally, we ask that our volunteers provide their own reflective vests. Reflective vests are fairly inexpensive ($10 or so) and can be found at any hardware, sporting good, or department store, as well as the interwebz. That said, we do have a small set of reflective vests that can be loaned out on a case by case basis. If you’d like to borrow one, email Brett.

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  • I live three hours from Keene, but I really want to see a spotted salamander. Is it okay if I drive to Keene to join you for a Big Night?

    We do not recommend driving long distances on migration nights, for several reasons:

    (1) Spring weather is notoriously changeable. You could drive all that way, only to find out that the rain has stopped or the temperature has dropped and the migration has ceased for the night.
    (2) How many amphibians might you inadvertently run over on your way to help other amphibians? The best thing you can do for the salamanders is to drive less — or not at all — on Big Nights.

    That said, we do welcome folks from other communities to attend our volunteer trainings. One of the things we cover in those trainings is how to find amphibian road crossings in your town, and what to do once you’ve found them. We also maintain a list of other crossing brigade programs throughout the Northeast. Check it out, and see if you can find one closer to home!

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Volunteer Trainings

  • Do I really need to come to a training?

    Although we have no control over what you do or don’t do on rainy spring nights, if you’re even thinking of heading out to help salamanders cross the road, we strongly recommend that you attend one of our trainings. Trainings are an opportunity to learn how the whole thing works, from species identification to where to go on Big Nights, including — most importantlyhow to keep yourself safe when you’re out on the road.

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  • What happens at the trainings? Should I bring my raincoat?

    The trainings are 90-minute slideshows, filled with fantastic amphibian photos and videos. They take place entirely indoors, so there is no need for raingear!

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  • Does attending a training mean that I have to volunteer?

    Absolutely not. Many people attend our trainings simply to learn more about the spring amphibian migration. And all of our volunteers get to choose if, when, and how long they participate in the Crossing Brigades. When Big Night comes around, we tell our volunteers: come out if you can, and stay as long as you like.

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  • Are the trainings suitable for children?

    The trainings are 90-minute slideshows. Although we do our best to make them fun and engaging, it can be a long time for kids to sit still. Some parents opt to attend the training solo, then share the most important information with their children once they get back home. Others parents bring their kids (elementary-school age and up), along with a coloring book or other quiet activity to occupy them if they get fidgety.

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Contact Us

To volunteer or for more information, please contact Brett Amy Thelen at (603) 358-2065 or by email.