The weather was different that morning. It was warmer and just the start of the fall season. It was early morning and I was comfortable walking the dogs with just an old sweatshirt to keep the occasional cool breeze off my skin. It was dark, very little moonlight and a patchy cloud covered sky. You often really can’t tell cloud cover at night, but you know when it is thick because things seem darker than normal and the LED lights on the headlamp seem to struggle to light the ground. But that morning, the light moved more freely and it reflected off the moisture of the rocks in the road.
I have traveled this road many times before, over a thousand times perhaps. That morning things were moving along as normal until my light glistened off a dark object near the edge of the road.
I approached the object slowly, mainly concerned that it might be something that I didn’t want the dogs to eat. As I got closer, my eyes focused in on the object. It was slightly rounded and presented the classic crescent shape of a resting salamander. Yet it was larger than most salamanders I have seen, and much larger than the Red Efts I see on many spring mornings. I quickly realized that I was looking at a medium size Spotted Salamander.
A Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) can grow up to nine inches long, but this was seemed closer to six inches long. Its bluish black body had several yellow spots irregularly spaced on its back which provided great contrast in the reflection of my headlamp. The Spotted Salamander is the largest of Vermont’s salamanders and spends most of its time living underground in mole holes or mouse tunnels. This was truly quite a treat to see this creature in the wild. The Spotted Salamander is an elusive animal and I have spent several early spring evenings searching for migrating salamanders in the wetland and woods around my house with no success. Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived as I began to suspect this Salamander was dead.
I kneeled down on the side of the road. The Spotted Salamander became circled in a beam of light from my headlamp. I slowly reached down and touched him. He was cold, moist, and made no attempt to move. I picked him up and he showed the distinct indications that it had been run over by a car. I held him for a moment before I moved him off to the side of the road. I placed the Salamander in the tall grass on the side of the road as I felt like this was the best way to show respect to this beautiful and mysterious creature. I took a moment to let the mixed emotions of this event pass over me before I got up and continued on my walk a little more aware of the fragility of life.