A new(ish) article (Feb 2008 ) out in Herpetological Conservation and Biology (PDF) finds that a staggering amount of amphibians in the Midwest are roadkill. The total list of all the vertebrate things killed on roads is just depressing as hell. (The list is too long to reproduce here.)

While lots of things died on the roads, nearly 95% of the roadkill appears to be amphibians. Given the threatened status of amphibians worldwide, and the increasing paving of the planet, this is disturbing.

From their discussion:

“Our results emphasize that road-kill may be a significant factor in the overall decline of amphibian and reptile populations, particularly frogs and other amphibians. Consider our results and those of two other studies: Ashley and Robinson (1996) plus Smith and Dodd (2003). Collectively, these three studies document 42,502 dead amphibians and reptiles across four routes which span a total of only 11.5 km of road. The total number of survey days was 488, which translates into a mean of roughly 7.6 dead amphibians and reptiles/km/day.”

I currently commute on roads through a lot of wetlands, and regularly see squashed turtles. I wonder how many other types of flattened fauna I am missing.

The authors emphasize that road-kill should be considered a major risk when evaluating endangered/threatened species recovery plans. Additionally, routing away from wetlands, or putting in alternate routes for wildlife (animal underpasses) should be considered.

Sigh. Poor frogs and salamanders.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. I wonder if the USFWS has taken the suggestion from the authors and considered road development plans in relation to amphibian issues when related to federal actions. I would guess that could get as political as damming rivers.

  2. I don’t know how to say this kindly. The only way to eliminate roadkill is to eliminate humans. I do not advocate that but it is the reducto ad absurbum (??) of all these arguments. You can build all the animal underpasses that you want, it is really difficult to teach frogs, lizards, turtles and salamanders to use them. Deer are much more intelligent and they cannot get the message either. I must have seen 50 dead dear along route 70 from Chevy Chase to Indianapolis recently.
    Well, you can only hope that James Howard Kunstler is correct and that humanity is doomed.

    Don’t think I am not sympathetic. When I was a kid in the spring every puddle had tadpoles in it, it seemed. Now there are few or none and my grandchildren don’t know what I am talking about.

  3. We have the same issue when evaluating butterfly resources. It sounds nice to put nectar & host plants along roadways, but a butterfly wobbling 5 mph versus a vehicle going 45-70 mph …

    Even the sum of a number of small conservation areas don’t equal a single large area, especially without safe corridors.


  4. I think the problem is, people don’t pay attention to what’s in the road. We stopped and helped this little guy cross the road, but I think he’s been hit before because he had a pretty nasty crack in his carapace.


  5. Hey, the price of gas may just solve this problem on its own!

    I nudged an angry, giant snapping turtle across the road last week before it could get crunched and three other drivers stopped to offer help. Technique: have one person lure the snapper with an ice scraper as ‘bait’ so it moves towards the object while the another person lifts the big turtle’s shell with her boot tip to boost him forward. No fingers involved.

  6. The problem is, we can see the turtles. But what about spring peepers? or little salamanders?

    It would be like trying to drive and miss Andrea’s butterflies.

    Oh, and Oldfart, why not just build fewer roads, and pave fewer swamps? I find it difficult to believe we really need more roads and pavement.

    I’ll go put my Birkenstocks on now…..

  7. Ah, young lady, I am not the one who is paving paradise to make it a parking lot. You will have a tough time convincing 300 million Americans to have fewer children so that there will be fewer roads for them so that frogs and salamanders and turtles don’t get run over.

    But, as per the Greenpeace dream, perhaps nature, peak oil and AGW will take care of that for you.

  8. George Peabody May 28, 2008 at 7:57 am

    Not entirely off-topic, I offer the following poem:


    I know where porcupines
    Cross the road;
    Six or eight times a year
    I see their bodies.

    We all know this.
    All of us
    Who drive this road
    With our eyes open.

    There are no other
    Signs. Oh, perhaps
    A half-glimpsed trail
    Through the ditch.

    A mouse, or rabbit
    Crushed nearby,
    A waiting undertaker

    Deer and moose,
    Greater value or threat,
    Leap and loom
    On caution signs uncounted.

    Where are the warning signs
    For smaller forms of life?

    I want beside each trail
    A porcupine
    On a field of D.o.T green.

    As supporters:
    A chipmunk, hesitating,
    And a frog
    Leaping in place.

    A noble heraldic sign,
    The least we can do
    To right
    An ancient wrong.

    — George Peabody
    September 21, 1997

  9. Turtle!!!

    (it had to be said…)

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