Last night was another of those oh-so-perfect amphibian nights: rainy and about 50°F. Flashlights and camera in hand, I went out for another midnight drive to see what I could find. I drove the same route as last time, along 20 miles of a quiet country road that leads south from Corvallis (where I live) into agricultural lands and wooded hills.
The darkness was indeed teeming with small animals. I found two reptiles and six species of amphibians—including four Ensatinas, a species of salamander that I did not see on my last survey and which graces the banner of this site. The reptiles, an alligator lizard and a gopher snake, were both dead, having been squished by cars on the road. I saw living representatives of all the amphibian species, but there were also many dead individuals. For small animals that cannot move quickly or detect fast-approaching vehicles, roads are extremely dangerous places. Research has found that roads are major barriers to migration for many amphibian species. The effects of reduced gene flow across roads have led populations of some species to become genetically fragmented. Luckily, there are ways to make roads less hazardous to these animals. For example, small tunnels (also see below) can be constructed that allow migrating amphibians to wiggle under the road. Such contrivances are still rare in most places. However, there are cool people in places like Ithaca, NY and England who go out during the spring migrations to help amphibians cross roads by picking them up and dropping them on the other side. Isn’t that great? Brings a tear to my eye…seriously.
Here are some grisly photos from last night that will hopefully shock you into keeping a look out for small beasts when you are careening down a rain-slicked road in your tricked-out lowrider Hummer:
Below are some schematics for amphibian tunnels, drawn up by Scott Jackson of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in this document.