City officials close off street for cute, endangered salamanders

Jefferson Salamander

Ducks, sheep, and even migrating crabs have halted traffic and diverted cars in the past. Now, it’s an endangered group of salamanders that are blocking off streets in Ontario.

In Burlington and Kitchener, city officials have closed off streets semi-permanently to protect the routes of the Jefferson salamander, a type of amphibian protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act since 2008.

This spring, both municipalities will block off roads when the salamanders make their epic journey from their overwintering sites to nearby woodland ponds to breed. For the Jefferson salamanders of Burlington and Kitchener, this trek of Odyssey-like proportions involves crossing the street.

In late March to early April, the creatures lay their eggs in underwater vegetation. By mid-summer, the newly-born larvae will have lost their gills and will leave the pond to live in the nearby forests.

Stephen Murphy, an ecologist at the University of Waterloo, said although the distance the salamanders need to travel is small, it can be dangerous for the amphibians.

“They’ve got little legs and they’re pretty low to the ground,” Murphy said in an interview with the Toronto Star. “It’s kind of like if you and I were sitting there talking and a big giant came by. We might not see it until it’s too late.”

In an interview with the CBC, Murphy elaborated: “They’re not exactly quick. Being salamanders, they’re pretty slow. As a result, they actually have a hard time crossing large things like roads.”

Jefferson salamanders are slender with a wide nose and long toes. Some of them have silver and blue specks on their sides, but most are all dark grey, brown or black. In Canada, they live in deciduous forests, mainly along the Niagara Escarpment in Southern Ontario.

According to the province, the biggest threats to the Jefferson Salamander are “habitat loss and degradation caused by urban development, draining of wetlands, and some resource extraction activities.”

In Burlington, King Road to Mountain Brow Road will be closed from March 25 to April 15. In Kitchener, a low-traffic zone on Stauffer Drive will be closed all spring. The salamanders make their annual pilgrimage from one pond beside Stauffer Drive to another pond that forms on the other side of the road when the snow melts on the other side.

Although Darwin might not agree with the city officials on this one, salamander-lovers will rejoice.