Wildlife biologists have expressed concern over the delayed start of the amphibian migration in Northern New England this year as it threatens the natural breeding cycle of frogs and salamanders in the region.

Several species of amphibians travel each spring to temporary bodies of water created by melted snow in order to breed. The offspring then spend the following months to develop before the puddles evaporate during summer. Experts, however, are fearful that the late start of spring this year has delayed the breeding season by one to two weeks, which could significantly alter the development time for native salamanders and frogs.

Eric Orff, a wildlife expert from the National Wildlife Federation, said that the delay could potentially affect millions of animals in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

"With a late spring and climate change predicting hotter, drier summers, we're really in a race against time before these vernal pools dry up, leaving these animals stranded to die," Orff said.

Wildlife biologist Mike Marchand from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department explained that there are five local species that depend entirely on the temporary pools to breed. These are the wood frog and four types of salamanders, which include one endangered species and two that are considered "of conservation concern."

Marchand added that each one of these animals serves a particular purpose in the ecosystem, with salamanders keeping the local mosquito population in check by eating their larvae, and the frogs serving as valuable food for other animals.

The amphibians begin their migration during rainy evenings when temperatures normally reach 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Wildlife officials urge locals to lend a hand in the critters' migration.

The first significant migration of the season, which wildlife enthusiasts call the "Big Night," happened on Monday in southwestern New Hampshire. Close to 100 volunteers shuttled nearly 3,000 amphibians across roads in the area. The volunteers wore reflective gear and used flashlights to help pick up various spring peepers, salamanders, and wood frogs. They documented each critter then sent them back off to their migration.

The Harris Center for Conservation Education in New Hampshire has helped train volunteers for their "Salamander Crossing Brigades" program, which began in 2007.

According to the program's director Brett Thelen, the group has also started taking photographs of markings on yellow spotted salamanders for documentation. Some of the salamanders the volunteers helped during the Big Night Monday were critters that they had documented before.

While their priority is to help the amphibians survive their long trek, the volunteers also recorded the ones who ended up as roadkill. These dead critters often become food for other animals or get "pulverized beyond recognition" after a few hours of being on the road.

Thelen admits that it would be difficult to ask residents to avoid driving during rainy nights, but she hopes that they will at least recognize that there is a migration going on and slow down.

Photo: William Warby | Flickr 

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