OLD SAYBROOK – Why did the salamander cross the road? It may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but for volunteers on Ingham Hill Road, the answer is simple – to have a safe start to the breeding season.
Armed with flashlights and orange reflective vests, volunteers took to the streets for a bucket brigade. Charles Landrey, a resident of Ingham Hill Road, said the “loose bucket brigade” is made up of volunteers who want to ensure salamanders can safely make their journey as they cross the road.
While they are not armed with buckets, Landrey said, the volunteers come out on rainy late afternoons and evenings in the spring when air and ground temperatures go above 40 degrees, the height of the salamander breeding season.
They wet their hands on the asphalt and literally carry the salamanders in their hands to take them from the uplands area on one side of the road over to the wetlands area on the other side.
Additionally, they help slow down traffic and warn drivers of the salamander crossing through the use of signs.
“It’s really a marvelous way of getting people in touch with their wildlife,” Landrey said.
While only about five or six volunteers come out each night, Landrey said it is usually a different group of people each night since many have prior commitments.
As many as 20 people participated last year, Landrey said, adding that volunteers are made up of all ages with most residing in Old Saybrook.
Sally Faulkner said her family recently took part in this endeavor for their first time this year.
Faulkner’s husband, David, and her two home-schooled teenage daughters, Matty, 12, and Molly, 15, helped about 15 to 20 salamanders each night for two nights, Sally said.
The adventure has added to both of her daughters’ educational experience since, according to Sally, “It’s one thing to look at things in books and another to see the salamanders scurrying across the road. It’s a different view of the collision of the natural world and the man-made world.”
While the migration takes place over a two-week period, Landrey said, “usually over the course of two days we will see the heaviest movement.”
One of the busiest days Landrey remembers is one in which volunteers helped carry 50 salamanders across the road.
Sometimes it is difficult to predict when the salamanders will emerge from their underground home where they spend 99 percent of their lives, Landrey said.
A migration surprisingly took place during an April snowfall three years ago.
“We encourage people to bring their kids if they are old enough to know to stay with their parents,” Landrey said.
Children today often know more about the wildlife in Africa than they do about the natural habitat in Old Saybrook.
If not for these determined volunteers, Landrey said, many salamanders would be killed by even the most careful driver.
“The salamanders and the road are gray and salamanders blend in with the specks in the pavement,” Landrey said, adding that even the yellow spots on the salamanders are difficult to see.
Even though the road is in a residential area, Landrey said he encourages the volunteers to wear orange reflective vests because some drivers do not slow down even if there are several people in the road only a few hundred feet away from them.
Old Saybrook Selectman Bill Peace said while some of the salamanders are as large as six to seven inches, it may be possible to install a pipe so they can safely cross the road.
This could be similar to underground pipes that have been installed to allow fish to cross roadways.
Ecologist Michael Klemens of Ridgefield has told Landrey that many spotted salamanders originate from the 1,000-acre Preserve property located only a few miles away.