190314ind McLeish

There aren’t a lot of people who will complain about the change from winter to spring and the warm weather that comes with it, but for many frogs, the change in temperatures can be dangerous as their attempts to move from winter hibernation locations to local ponds for breeding can put them at risk of getting hit by passing vehicles along the way.

Beginning when I was about five years old, I spent as much time as possible exploring the ponds and swamps near my childhood home for frogs and whatever other creatures I could find. On each excursion, my friends and I would do our best to get our hands on every frog, salamander, snake or turtle that showed its face in what today might be called an experiential learning environment.

That was also the time that I decided to be a writer, and my first written documents were detailed descriptions of the observations I made about the behavior of those same animals. I still have one of those reports, written exactly 50 years ago, and while almost nothing I wrote was scientifically accurate, it certainly reflects the enthusiasm I had for those species.

Bullfrogs were my favorite, because they were almost too big for my tiny hands to grasp and because their low, resonant voices were akin to what my mother said was my unusually low voice at the time. Every bullfrog I caught I named Bigelow for their large size, and I showed them off to anyone who would look before releasing them back into the water.

Pickerel frogs, the best jumpers of the local species, were another favorite, though they were especially difficult to capture. Any slight movement in their direction would set them a-leaping, and they could sometimes outrun me over short distances. At least that’s how I remember it.    

I’ve always described those years as that of a typical suburban kid, though I’m finding that it may not have been the universal experience I once thought it was. Still, it turned out to be a crucial time in my life for identifying my future interests and career.

I mention these stories because late March and early April is frog season in Rhode Island, when evening rain showers trigger the movement of large numbers of wood frogs and spring peepers – and green frogs a few weeks later – from their upland wintering habitat to local ponds and vernal pools to breed. They are often joined by spotted salamanders, American toads and other less-common species in a loud orgy of amphibian sex.

While the animals are single-minded in their objective, they don’t necessarily recognize the danger they face as they transit across roads to reach their breeding pools. It’s not uncommon for hundreds of frogs to be killed by vehicles in one night over less than a mile of roadway in areas where wetlands are nearby. Even observant drivers who are aware of the frog migration have difficulty avoiding the animals leaping toward their headlights.

That’s why, whenever it rains at night at this time of year, I spend a few hours after dark helping frogs and salamanders across one stretch of road that is a popular migratory route for amphibians in my area. Last year my wife and I safely escorted more than 50 frogs across the road in just one hour of walking a quarter-mile stretch of road.

You can help them, too. During the next couple rainy nights, take a walk along a back road adjacent to a freshwater pond after about 8 p.m. Shine a flashlight on the road – for your own safety and to locate any frogs on the pavement – and help those animals across the road in the direction they are facing.

And if you happen to be driving at night when it’s raining this month, please go slow and avoid any frogs you see. Call it your good deed for the day.

Naturalist Todd McLeish has been writing about wildlife and the environment for more than 25 years. His newest book is called “Return of the Sea Otter.

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