After a long winter's slumber, thousands of amphibians — salamanders and frogs — simultaneously embark on a search for vernal pools in which to breed and lay eggs. Many return to the same pond where they were born. These temporary wetlands provide a safe fish-free environment for organisms to reproduce and develop.

The annual event has been dubbed the "big night" by Unity College's Herpetology Club and happens during the first warm rains of spring. Last Thursday, April 12, was just such a night and for amphibian newbies, the event was a real eye-opener.

Greg LeClair, a wildlife biology major and president of the Herpetology Club, said the ideal temperature should be around 45 degrees and rainy and the ground should not be frozen but more like a "squish." Usually this happens at the end of March or first week in April.

A bog area on Stagecoach Road in Unity, just off of Route 220, was the first stop on a tour of known amphibian crossings. Early in the evening it was dry and chilly, but rain was in the forecast with temperatures in the mid-40s.

"Looking at the radar it looks like we should get some rain soon tonight," LeClair announced to the group, while looking at a weather app on his smartphone.

In short order, it began to drizzle and then came a soft, steady rain. Soon all eyes and flashlights were trained on a wood frog, the first amphibian spotted emerging in search of a vernal pool.

Associate Professor of Conservation Biology Matthew Chatfield said wood frogs tend to make a "cluck noise." They have the ability to freeze over the winter and become active once the warmer temperatures of spring arrive.

A smaller frog — about an inch long — called the spring peeper was soon spotted, then a curious blue-spotted salamander was seen crossing the road.

Many consider the cacophony of spring peepers as the true sign of the arrival of spring. The bird-like noises they make are males trying to attract females, according to Chatfield.

During the big night, club members, along with a few other interested individuals, were transported to several other known crossing spots along local roads. In all, many amphibians were spotted, cataloged and safely placed on the other side of the road.

The event was designed to help raise awareness of biggest night of amphibian migration of the year. Or, more accurately, the biggest few weeks of the year.

“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,” LeClair said. “You are bound to see some of these guys making their way to breed.”