Tonight I joined about 12 other people along 31st Street in Lawrence in a 'salamander rescue' to ferry salamanders Ambystoma texanum across the road to and from their breeding grounds.
I know the typical reaction: good grief get a life; and many probably agree with one of the editorial writers from the Journal World (http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/mar/04/oh_no/?editorials_jw) who noted:
"The silly season is upon us again and this time it is even sillier than usual. There is a local coalition actually trying to organize a mass effort to help salamanders cross a section of 31st Street that supposedly keeps them from making their appointed reproductive rounds."
Of course this whole thing is bound up in a local debate concerning a by-pass through the Baker Wetlands:
"Is this for real, for serious, or just another ploy to impose even more barriers to completion of the South Lawrence traffic way? There is a history of foolishness for political purposes reaching back to the infamous and elusive northern crawfish frog, a species that at one time was considered threatened."
Well you get the drift.
I am astounded that in the 21st century a supposed educated person doesn't understand the importance of biodiversity and the effects of human activity on wildlife habitat. But I guess some people still cling to notion that the planet was made for us to plunder.
At any rate, we did find 41 salamanders as best as I could tally. Of course the one hitch was uncertainty as to what the salamanders wanted to do. My instinct was to hunt them on the north side of the road figuring they would want to head toward the main body of the wetlands on the south side. But people seemed to be finding the salamanders heading north. However, since we did not get a whole lot of rain, the amphibians were clearly not actively crossing the road.
Dr. Joseph Collins of KU says that at the end of January a student saw the salamanders migrating from the north to the south. But my son Norman who knows the Baker wetlands very well, much better than I, says the salamanders are much more abundant on the south side during the summer, consistent with Dr. Collin's understanding. Perhaps when we get some real rain, we will get a clearer idea of what the salamanders want.
For me the rescue brought back memories of high school when Thom Smith of the Berkshire Museum would lead a group of us on mad salamander hunts in spring rains in Massachusetts. There the quarry was often other Ambystoma species such as the spotted salamander.
The Salamander Rescue was organized by Michael Caron shown here.
Mike is hoping that Tuesday will be a big salamander night. Hope they give the searchers a better clue as to which direction they want to go!
Salamander pictures from Jeff Parmelee including A. texanum eggs:
Save the Sacred Baker Wetlands(http://www.savethewetlands.org/) Has good links to photos from the wetlands. I especially enjoy Wally Emerson's photographs, (http://www.wallyemerson.com/wetlands/pageone/pages/BandofSunset.htm).