Be a Better Crossing Guard: Hot Tips

#1 Most Important! BRIGHT LIGHTS:

Dim flashlights can vastly reduce your efficiency at finding and moving amphibians. Some volunteers have learned the hard way that an ordinary flashlight, especially one with waning batteries, might not reveal salamanders until you’re, ahem, upon them. If, on the other hand, you have a bright enough light, you can clearly see all amphibian movement over a large swath of pavement. Headlamps are not bright enough. The light from LEDs tends to be too diffuse.

6 volt flashlights are inexpensive and provide a bright, long distance beam.

Don’t wait for the rain to start! Make sure you have a big light for Big Night, and enough bulbs and batteries to keep it bright. You won’t be sorry, and the salamanders will thank you .

#2  The Efficient Walk:

With a bright light, stride briskly along your stretch of road, sweeping the light from side to side. Always check the area by your feet when changing direction or resuming activity. Note: this only works if you have a BRIGHT light.

#3 Bring a bucket:

Some volunteers collect salamanders in a bucket. This may be helpful if there is heavy traffic and/or high numbers of amphibians. Make sure the bucket is very clean, with no residual soap, detergent or chemicals of any kind.

#4 Keep your feet on the street:

Since salamanders are very difficult to see once they’re off the road, don’t step off the road yourself unless forced to for safety.

#5 Safety:

Be sure to wear reflective, light colored clothing. Inexpensive flashing warning lights that can be clipped on your clothing are available at hardware and sporting goods stores. Reflective vests are strongly recommended. Hardware stores also sell reflective tape that can be applied to clothing.

#6 Clean hands:

Make sure your hands have no sunscreen or lotion on them. Salamanders readily absorb chemicals through their skin.

#7 Watch out!

Some of these amphibians, especially the tiny peepers, can be very hard to see. Always check the area around your feet before you change direction. If your light is dim, take your time. Don’t rush to move a salamander unless you can clearly see the path is clear. Parents, please supervise children closely. We have seen amphibians stepped on by kids in a hurry to pick up a salamander.

Do Salamanders Get Disoriented?

This message from herpetologist Jim Andrews:

“Since there were only two of us at the site, I experimented with a question that had been bothering me some.  I took three of the Blue-spotted Salamanders and purposefully headed them in the wrong direction, but on the downhill side of the road to see if they would orient themselves, turn around, and head in the correct direction toward the swamp.  All three of these salamanders turned around and headed to the swamp.  However, it was also away from me.  Despite these encouraging initial results, it became clear that some of the salamanders that we helped across the road got disoriented and came back across the road headed in the wrong direction.  I don’t now how far they would have travelled in that direction, perhaps they would have turned around and headed back at some point.  The only Spotted Salamander we found that night, one with a forked tail, was found heading back uphill going the wrong way.

So, I think the take home message is that when we move salamanders across roads in the early spring, we should do what we can to get them oriented in the correct direction toward the breeding habitat. To me this means getting them over the snow bank and on the downhill slope toward the swamp and heading them in the correct direction.  If you have the time and patience, it would not hurt to watch them for a minute or two to make sure they start off in the correct direction.”

With Constabulary Duties to be Done (to be Done). . .

Our Legal Rights and Responsibilities

Last season a number of drivers who passed through our crossing sites complained to the police. When a trooper came to my site to find out what was going on, he found one car parked illegally and a couple of crossing guards not wearing reflective vests. He strongly suggested we all go home, or at least dig the extra safety vests out of our cars. When BEEC followed up with the State Police the next day to find out what the law says about salamander crossing brigades, we learned that all pedestrians, and that includes salamander crossing guards, have the right of way on our public roads, however, intentionally impeding traffic is a misdemeanor. We have since developed the following guidelines that we hope will improve safety for motorists and crossing guards, minimize complaints to the constabulary, and allow us to continue our salamander crossing services:

  • Unless cars have slowed to allow you to move amphibians, stay out of their way as they pass through your site. We are not allowed to stop cars.
  • Park in a safe, legal way.
  • Dress in light colored clothing and deck yourself with flashing lights and reflectors. These items can be purchased at low price from hardware stores. Reflective tape can be applied to your raincoat or other clothes.
  • Place signs 200 feet before the crossing zone to allow motorists time to slow.
  • Don’t shine your lights at approaching cars.