Slow Down for Salamanders
Each year, between November and April, the Natchez Trace Parkway implements a temporary lowered speed zone between milepost 85 and 87, south of Interstate 20 in Hinds County, MS. In this area, there are limestone outcrops and a number of seasonal pools that provide important foraging and breeding habitat for many species of salamanders and frogs. Species in this area, such as the state-imperiled Webster's salamander (Plethodon websteri), are known to only 16 highly disconnected sites in Mississippi.
During rainy nights in the November through March breeding season, many species are "on the move" to lay eggs and to look for food. As a result, dozens of amphibians are killed by cars every night as they attempt to cross the Parkway. These animals face the threat again when they return home after breeding.
In order to increase the ability for these species to cross unharmed, a reduced speed limit of 35 mph at night when raining will be in effect. Signs have been installed to let motorists know to slow down. When the signs are flashing, please reduce your speed and keep a close eye out for tiny wildlife. The signs will be removed once breeding season is over, and will return when it begins again the following year.
Salamanders, which look somewhat like scaleless lizards that move much more slowly, and frogs are important components of their habitats. The health of some wetlands and woodland areas can be determined by the health of the amphibians, giving us an early indication of poor water quality and other issues.
For more than five years, Tom Mann (Natural Heritage Program Zoologist at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science), Dr. Debora Mann (Millsaps College), Dr. Bill Stark (Mississippi College), and a number of others have been voluntarily monitoring salamander populations and facilitating amphibian crossings. Their dedication has resulted in great contributions to the knowledge base of amphibians along the Parkway. A lowered speed limit improves safety for these volunteers, as well as for passing amphibians.