Most of us are familiar with lengthy bird migrations that take place each spring and fall, as well as the impressive migration of Monarch butterflies from the United States and Canada to central Mexico and back each year. There is another no-less-impressive migration that takes place each spring in the Great Lakes Region and New England that involves blue-spotted salamanders.
On late winter and early spring nights, as the snow cover begins to gradually dissipate, hardy blue-spotted salamanders will emerge from their lairs to travel upwards of 1,000 feet to a nearby vernal pool or wetland to produce the next generation. This delicate balance depends on many factors – air temperature, extent of snow cover, damp conditions, the existence of vernal pools/wetlands, and in many cases, human behavior.
A 2019 season-long migration study of blue-spotted salamanders residing in Marquette, Michigan’s Presque Ile Park was conducted by Northern Michigan University biology student Eli Bieri in conjunction with the Superior Watershed Partnership. He found that thousands of blue-spotted salamanders migrate in the Bog Walk Wetlands section of this lovely park between March 15 and April 15. Unfortunately, this magnificent natural event is marred by one thing – automobiles crushing the migrating salamanders as they attempt to cross Peter White Drive inside the park on their way to a nearby wetland. In fact, the study identified at least 429 such salamander deaths in 2019. It is estimated that this number represents between 10-20 percent of the park’s entire blue-spotted salamander population.
To rectify this situation and to protect the migrating salamanders, the City of Marquette agreed in 2020 to temporarily close Peter White Drive at night throughout the blue-spotted salamander’s migration season. This single act will go a long-way towards maintaining a healthy population of these fascinating amphibians living there. In fact, as a result of the temporary closure, during the 2020 migration only three (3) salamander fatalities were recorded! The success of the program has led the city to continue closing the roadway at night throughout the migration season. Future efforts may include the addition of tunnels for the salamanders to cross beneath the roadway.
This informative study and the city’s gracious act of temporarily closing Peter White Drive not only protects these salamanders, but it also introduces the greater Marquette community to yet another awe-inspiring aspect of Mother Nature residing in their midst. In fact, observing the blue-spotted salamander migration in Presque Ile Park is now a new and unique activity being enjoyed by residents of the city and visitors alike.
Bravo to the City of Marquette for taking this important and environmentally friendly step. Presque Ile Park is already a stunningly beautiful 323-acre park located on a forested and rocky headland extending into Lake Superior. Its population of blue-spotted salamanders only adds to its magical allure.