Death and Tigers on the Road

On a rainy night, our Merritt College salamander class took a night drive along one of the rural  roads off I580 south. We arrived at the east entrance at 6:00 p.m.

After about 15 minutes, we started driving, trying to keep the car in front of us out of sight. There were three cars. We didn’t see anything (at least didn’t recognize things as being more than detritus) going at the speed we were going, 25-30 mph. We tried covering the distracting dashboard displays to help our vision. We turned around 10 miles in at 6:40.

At 7:20, we found a decomposing raccoon carcass (read somewhat smelly). While we were not finding the things we were looking for, the other two cars found many things. 10 minutes later, we found a squished newt. Another 10 minutes, and we found a live California Toad (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus) in the road.  We encouraged it to move to the side. It started to rain. Another 12 minutes, another roadkill. It was a herp, but we couldn’t tell what. In examining my photos post-trip, I see a light stripe, but that could be just reflection off a fold.  Nearby was a squished California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii), a federally threatened species.  There was also a roadkill bird. It wasn’t a seed eater, as the bill was thinner than that of a sparrow or finch.

Roadkill Red-legged Frog

Squished California Red-legged Frog

At 8:00 we passed a squished insect, an Orthopteran (crickets, grasshoppers and katydids). The people in the other two cars found more things. There were hundreds of round Spirobolida (probably) millipedes on the wet road. They exuded brown defensive secretions that smelled like bleach. Somewhere, we passed another raccoon carcass.

We turned around again at 8:15. We were moving slower now, realizing that the suggested 25 was still too fast for us, so we moved at 5-10 mph, keeping an eye out for cars coming up on us. From the car, things looked a lot smaller. In retrospect, we could have gotten out and walked in some areas. Half an hour later, MC spotted some movement on the road ahead. We stopped and jumped out. Finally, a California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense)! It was moving parallel to the road, so we couldn’t tell what it was from the car.  It was roughly 7″ long including the tail, a beautiful creature.  This species is federally threatened, endangered in some areas.  Non-native barred tiger salamanders had also been introduced as fishing bait, and they are hybridizing with the natives.

Since some of these salamanders and many other critters not listed here were killed by cars, we encouraged all the critters we found to move to the side. Hopefully they will live another day. A few minutes down the road we spotted another tiger.

Around 8:50, I spotted something by the yellow lines. Jumping out again, the small lump in the road became a  Western Spadefoot Toad (Spea hammondii)! It was very cute, 1.5-2″ as it sat. We didn’t want it to get run over either, so I picked it up (we didn’t pick up the protected animals). We looked at its hard spade. It protested with a release call. I brought it over to show our driver, and it protested again. Thank you, little guy, I hope you live long enough to have kids.

Western Spacefoot Toad (Spea hammondii)

Western Spadefoot Toad (Spea hammondii)

Another 10 minutes later, another animal in the road. This time it was a small, live California Red-legged Frog, 3-4″ sitting.

We missed the gopher snake, newts, treefrogs and owl that others saw, as well as a Calisoga spider. But the Tiger Salamanders made the trip. We started back at 9:00.

More photos are here. They include several roadkills.


For more, see CaliforniaHerps, and Hank Fabian‘s website.