Why do amphibians cross the road? It sounds like the setup to a bad joke, but every spring, when the temperature hits about 50 degrees and it begins to rain, thousands of salamanders and frogs awake from their winter slumber and simultaneously march across the landscape to breeding locations.

Between these amphibians and their breeding pools are often roads, which creates a problem for amphibians, as drivers have a difficult time seeing and avoiding them. It’s actually possible for one unsuspecting car to nearly wipe out a whole local population of salamander or frog.

To help raise awareness of the crossing, known as “Big Night,” the Unity College Herpetology Club, which is focused on the study of reptiles and amphibians, has launched the first-ever Big Night event at the college. The Big Night event follows in the footsteps of dozens of other conservation organizations who have mobilized volunteers to help conserve the dwindling amphibian population, sending volunteers out into one of the first warm and rainy nights of spring to help these creatures cross without getting hit.

“This is a wonderful event driven by Unity College students who have a passion for amphibians, and ensuring these species continue to thrive locally,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “It also gives our students and the community an opportunity to get an up-close look and to work hands-on with amphibians like the spotted salamander or the eastern newt. It is an incredible learning experience for all of us.”

With several years of observations recorded, Unity College’s Herpetology Club will be orchestrating the event throughout pre-selected spots in the town of Unity to help the animals survive as well as gather data on them. The event is sponsored by Unity College and the town of Unity and will be attended by students, professors, local families, and either the Unity Fire Department or Waldo Sheriff’s Office for safety.

“Years before my college career started, I would be driving around town to find salamanders and frogs in the road and scoot them across before they got hit,” said Greg LeClair, (‘18), a Wildlife Biology major at Unity College, and President of the Herpetology Club. “I was always thinking about how I could get other people involved. Most people don’t even know that they are running over potentially dozens of these animals a night.”

The event will run from about 7-9:30 p.m.; a date can only be selected when the time is right. One thing is certain, these students will be hands-on with frogs and salamanders at a time when some college students are hands-on with snacks and textbooks.

“Even if you can’t make the event, you can still participate in your local town. When we get a really warm and rainy night in the next few weeks, drive around safely and look on the road, especially near forested areas,” added Greg. “You are bound to see some of these guys making their way to breed.”