It’s that time of year again—when the conditions are just right for amphibians wake up from their winter hibernation to begin the mass migration to their breeding grounds. These action-packed nights (called “Big Nights”) are likely to occur on the first rainy nights when the temperature nudges up around 45°F. Their destination? Vernal pools (temporary wetlands that fill with snow melt, rainwater, or heightened levels of groundwater in the spring) or nearby ponds and swampy areas. For many amphibians, these special wetlands are the only places they mate. And for many, they have to cross heavily trafficked roads to get there.
Right now, exploring nearby vernal pools and other wetlands where amphibians may be dwelling is an exciting and unique way to get outdoors and explore nature. Who knew so much activity could be going on while so many of us are sound asleep? If you’re interested in recording and sharing your own observations and ecological data with the Maine Amphibians Migration Monitoring group—like we’re doing here at the Gardens—you can join their Facebook group here. You will need to complete a short training and quiz, sign a safety/liability waiver, and adopt a site before going out and collecting your data for the project.
If you decide to take part, you will play an important role in Big Night research. By collecting and sharing your data, you can help scientists in Maine identify where significant and vulnerable populations of amphibians exist. This data can be used later on to bolster conservation efforts. That means you will be helping save amphibian lives! Even if you decide not to take part in data collection and simply go out for your own personal interest and enjoyment, you will likely have a greater appreciation for these critters after laying eyes on a charismatic salamander or a lively frog. Soak up all the amphibian wonder, just as their moist skin soaks up the water and environmental cues around them! Which reminds me: if by chance you’ll be handling any amphibians, be sure to wash your hands first for their safety—and be sure to wash your hands afterwards for your safety! (If you have them, wearing powder-free nitrile gloves while handling amphibians is even better.) Be gentle with them, and have fun!
If you want to learn more about “backyard wildlife” like this, the Gardens is offering a season filled with wildlife-specific classes, beginning with “Wildlife in the Backyard: Amphibians & Reptiles” on April 9. Even better, you have the option to attend online or in-person (in-person participants can spend the final hour of class exploring the Gardens’ wetlands to identify and observe these creatures). Other backyard creatures on the agenda this season include birds, insects, and mammals.