While humans rush inside during cold, wet nights, salamanders find the weather a perfect time to go outside and look for a partner. And that's a problem for salamanders who live along busy 31st street and in the nearby Baker Wetlands in Lawrence.
The salamanders emerge from their safe, underground holes on cold, wet nights to avoid predators, such as raccoons and birds. They move — very slowly — across the street to their breeding grounds.
The animals have some help in their annual dangerous trek during the next couple of weeks. Mike Caron, an amateur naturalist, went out last Saturday to be a crossing guard for the salamanders.
Caron, a Baker Wetlands advocate for 15 years, said he knew that last weekend's freezing rain and snow would help bring the 3- to 5-inch salamanders out of their holes. He found 15 live and four to five squished salamanders on 31st Street.
Caron met another man from Overland Park on Saturday night who was also concerned about the salamanders on the road.
"It really started sleeting and getting really nasty about 11 o'clock. And that's when we saw them actively in the road, trying to cross the road," Caron said. "They were all going from the north to the south."
But it's a long walk for the small animals.
"It's quite a trek to get across from one side to the other without two or three cars coming by," Caron said. "So you've got fair odds of getting run over."
The two men picked up a half-dozen of the creatures and moved them to the other side of the road.
Caron said he'll probably go back again if there's another late night with heavy rain.
Joe Collins, a herpetologist for the Kansas Biological Survey, said the creatures live underground most of the year, eating earthworms they find on the north side of 31st.
But when the first cold, heavy rains of the year start to fall, the salamanders leave their upland haven to go to breeding sites on both sides of 31st Street and in the Baker Wetlands.
"This is their one chance a year to have sex," Collins said, laughing. "And, apparently, the best sites are along the south side."
The salamanders lay eggs in the ditches and small ponds in the wetlands. When the eggs hatch and the larvae grow into salamanders, they follow the scent trail of parents back to the upland area on the north side of the road.
Last year, Caron organized wetlands advocates to help the salamanders cross. He has since decided that's not safe.
"I don't want to see the salamanders run over, but I would be a lot more concerned about a human being run over," he said. "It's not a good idea to encourage a lot of other people to go out there."