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. 

Western tiger salamanders get a bucket ride across busy Laramie streets to their breeding grounds in LaBonte Park on May 4, 2023. (Ana Castro/WyoFile)

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. 

Volunteers with the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute’s Laramie Salamander Migration Initiative fan out around LaBonte Park to protect amphibians from passing cars on May 4, 2023. (Tennessee Watson/WyoFile)

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. 

Tennessee Jane Watson is WyoFile's deputy managing editor. She was a 2020 Nieman Abrams Fellow for Local Investigative Journalism and Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter. She lives in Laramie. Contact...

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  1. Back in the 1980s, while going to UW, we lived in an old stucco house across the street from LaBonte. It was quite a scare to find salamanders in our bathtub and toilet!

  2. I love you folks at WyoFile! You cover the big issues and something that touches my heart. I lived in a wee little house over by LaBonte Park when I was a student at UW, and we marveled at the salamander spring trek. That was back in the early 1970’s. So kewl to see people caring so much to help them cross the streets now. Not to mention all the improvements at the Park last time I was there.