On the first warm rainy evening in May, hundreds of Western tiger salamanders made their annual migration from the yards of Laramie homes to the pond in LaBonte Park on the north side of town.
To aid their safe passage across city streets, volunteers roamed the neighborhood with flashlights. Wearing surgical gloves to protect the green and black critters from dry human skin, they carefully scooped the Wyoming state amphibians into buckets for safe passage to their breeding grounds.
A volunteer in a reflective vest stopped a car on Ninth Street — a busy cross-town route — to rescue a salamander from the middle of the road.
A curious neighbor welcomed the crowd fanning out around the park to look for migrants camouflaged in the leaves of his yard.
En route to the edge of the pond, volunteers made a quick stop to allow researchers with the Laramie Salamander Migration Initiative to measure, weigh and identify the sex of the animals. It’s one of many community science efforts led by the University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute.
On May 4, the first night of this year’s mass migration, researchers collected data on 85 live salamanders, Mason Lee said. Lee, who coordinates the project, estimated volunteers aided an additional 20-30 salamanders but released them before they were scrutinized. Volunteers also identified some 20 salamanders hit and killed by cars, Lee said.
Those that reach the pond have an important job to do: breed and lay thousands of eggs.
Over the course of the summer, those eggs will hatch small aquatic creatures that become terrestrial salamanders before migrating back to Laramie yards. There they burrow underground until spring, when volunteers will wait for the first warm wet evening to do it all over again.