Ellie Coombs, 9, of Bridgton reached out to touch the injured redback salamander wriggling in the road, its tail mostly detached and moving separately from its body.
“I like the designs on salamanders. And I got to touch it,” she said.
The three-inch salamander had shed part of its tail, a life-saving response to a predator, and soon would regrow a new one.
Coombs was among 16 people led by Lakes Environmental Association educator Mary Jewett down Dugway Road in Bridgton the night of April 25. Walking side by side, flashlights trained on the road, their goal was to spot and safely escort salamanders and frogs fresh from winter hibernation in the woods across the street to find food or a mate in a vernal, or temporary, pool.
At 50 degrees, the darkness and steady rain provided the ideal ambience for the spring event, known as “Big Night,” when the amphibians come to life in great numbers. It’s a misnomer, because the creatures come out on any day with decent rainfall when temperatures reach into the 40s during early spring.
During that time, they’re vulnerable to birds, muskrats and other predators. But passing cars are just as dangerous.
“Amphibians are one of the fastest-declining species on earth,” Jewett said. Some scientists attribute the declines, noted since the 1980s, to disease and climate change.
“They are an important part of the food chain,” Jewett said. “They eat mosquitoes.”
They also provide food to bears, raccoons and other animals.
Jewett thinks even small efforts, like those of the group she lead that night, can help save the amphibians’ lives, by getting them out of the road to safety in the nearby woods and water. After all, none cross the road speedily, and some seem to lounge in puddles in the road.
“They need our help,” Jewett said before the group assembled.
Conservation organizations hold other Big Night events throughout the state, including through the Unity College Herpetology Club and the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick.