Big Night for amphibians is a night well-known to biologists, environmentalists, naturalists, or anyone who is interested in the life cycle of amphibians such as frogs, toads and salamanders. It is defined as the first warm, rainy night in late winter or early spring when the conditions are just right for these small creatures to venture out from their winter burrows, beneath rocks, under twigs and leaves in their upland forest homes, and begin their slow, perilous journey down the slopes to the vernal pools formed by melting slow and ice, to lay their eggs.
The temperature must remain around forty degrees Farenheit. The warming temperatures and melting snow help to loosen the soil, and up they come from their winter hiding places. The warm, soft rain helps to protect their fragile skin, and the darkness helps to protect them from predators.
But predators are not the greatest danger the amphibians face. More often than not, the temporary vernal pools they must reach in order to lay their eggs and complete this crucial stage in their reproductive cycle, lie across busy roadways and intersections. The small creatures must brave the oncoming traffic in order to reach their destination. Sadly, many never make it to the other side.
Aware of the growing threat of habitat destruction and encroaching urbanization on the amphibian population, environmentalists coined the phrase "Big Night" for amphibians to alert citizens of this annual event, and enlist their help in getting these animals safely to to the other side of streets and roadways. Many towns have begun to organize awareness campaigns to educate people about the coming of Big Night, and the things they can do to help the amphibians. Some things people can do include driving more slowly, avoiding certain spots where the amphibians are known to cross, and even helping to carry the little creatures across the roadways to safety.
"In the days leading up to Big Night", writes children's author Sarah Marwil Lamstein in her book Big Night for Salamanders, volunteers in some communities put up signs along the roads where salamanders cross, informing residents and travelers of the migration. In a number of towns, police block the roads. In Amhest, Massachusetts, citizens convinced the town to build an amphibian tunnel under Henry Street so that frogs, toads and salamanders could cross safely." Sometimes, adds Lamstein, volunteers form phone chains to sound the alarm, and they come out to patrol the roads, taking along signs, flashlights, or turning on their car headlights as well. (1)
Big Night for amphibians is crucial to the survival of many species of amphibians. But why should we care? Well for one thing, amphibians are economically useful in reducing the number of insects that destroy crops and transmit diseases. (2) In addition, amphibian larva can reduce algae, insects and zooplankton in aquatic environments. Frogs and salamanders also provide food for larger mammals, and tadpoles are eaten by fish, snakes, turtles, birds and other wildlife. (3) They are an important part of the food chain, which, if broken, would affect many other links in the chain, including humans.
Big Night is an excellent example of the value of educating people about the natural world we all inhabit, and the positive impact our efforts can have in preserving and nurturing our earth and its creatures.
1. Lamstein,k Sarah Marwil. Big Night for Salamanders. Boyds Mill Press. Honesdale, PA. 2010.
2. Amphibian: Economic Importance. Retrieved 3-11-2011 from:
3. Amphibians and Reptiles. Retrieved 3-11-2011 from:
Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.