A sure sign of spring: Big Night nears

4 mins read
Spotted salamander- Ambystoma maculatum. (Photo by Nikolai Lane)

FARMINGTON – The snow is melting, the sun is warm and soon the amphibious creatures who spent their winters in a deep sleep will be waking up and migrating in mass.

Big night got its name from being the one night that almost all of the amphibious migration happen, though this night is usually just a window of specific conditions. A warm April rain will usually bring the frogs and salamanders out from forested woodlands to vernal pools to lay their eggs.

“The salamanders are living down in the woods, under logs, under the leaves, and in the ground they come out to mate and they specifically are looking for vernal pools, where there are no fish,” said Lecturer of Marine Biology, Nancy Prentiss.

Usually the perfect set of conditions occur somewhere in mid-April.

“It has to be wet out, it has to be raining and it has to be warm enough. The ground has to be soft as well, they’re not going to come out if the ground is frozen,” said Prentiss.

Leigh Ann Fish, a professor at the University of Farmington and Maine Master Naturalist has been organizing events and volunteer stations for big night in Farmington.

“We would like to set up some public stations that are accessible and safe in terms of traffic. Where people can go if they just want to have this encounter with frogs and salamanders. We’ve identified Seamon Road out by Mt. Blue High School and we’re kind of adopting that as one location where we’ll have some trained volunteers,” said Fish.

Big night attracts waves of volunteers each year who help by protecting these creatures as they cross roads and by documenting possible migration routes the frogs and salamanders may be taking as well as documenting the types of species being observed.

“We’ll be doing some data collection out there, [such as] number of species identified, which species, how many and what time period. That kind of data is important for understanding what’s happening with the animals in Maine,” said Fish.

People can participate in big night near their own homes. They should look for anywhere that there are wooded areas near a road that slopes down to where vernal pools could be formed. Many of these amphibians will be crossing roads to get to suitable locations.

“We’re encouraging people to go out in their own backyards or other places that they know about. To help with that we have some kits available. We’re going to check them out to people on a first come first serve basis,” said fish. “They’ll have things like headlamps, reflective vests and species identification cards.”

Dressing well is essential. The ideal conditions will be rain, potentially pouring rain.

“People have to dress for it, you have to be prepared. It’s going to be raining, sometimes pouring rain. You need to dress in layers, a waterproof jacket…just come dressed to get wet and chilled,” said Prentiss.

On March 25 Maine Master Naturalist, Bryce Hach will be delivering a virtual lecture on Maine amphibious wildlife. This is open to the public and can be registered for here.

If anyone would like to reserve a kit, or attend a public crossing site they can do that here.

COVID-19 social distancing and safety protocols will be followed at these sites.

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