Have you given any thoughts to toads lately? They may not be the first creature that comes to mind when considering animal advocacy. Indeed, the mating ritual of amphibians is not usually a concern because most toads manage to travel from their wooded habitats to a body of water for mating all by themselves and without human intervention.
Occasionally there are groups of toads that discover they need to cross dangerous roadways to get to their mating grounds. Such is the case on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where every spring thousands of toads cross a rural road near the Roxborough Reservoir.
In 2009, Lisa Levinson, a local resident discovered the plight of Philadelphia’s toads and started a mission to help save them from traffic. When she realized the moving leaves she spotted on the road were actually toads, she stopped her car and tried to get traffic to slow down for the crossings. Sadly, she noticed many of the toads had been run over by cars. Eventually a police officer parked her vehicle and assisted Levinson with her mission.
Realizing this job was going to last more than a day or two, Levinson set about making plans for an ongoing project. She contacted local advocacy groups and the Philadelphia Police 5th District to get permits allowing volunteers to shut down traffic in order to help toads cross the road. That first year Levinson reported they saved about 600 toads.
How Toads Mate
Toads are not a fan of sunlight and they travel mostly at night and in damp, rainy weather. In the spring, from about March through June, toads return to a water source where the females lay eggs in shallow water and the males fertilize them. After several weeks, the toadlets –which are the size of a human thumb nail—return to the woods from which their parents came.
The females are larger than the males and males can be seen hitching a ride on the backs of the females. Like all animals, toads have their own unique place in the ecosystem. The toad diet consists of worms; insects like crickets, spiders and mosquitos; leaves and sometimes birds, mice and rats. Helping to control the mosquito population makes toads necessary to keep around.
Toad Crossing, Today
In 2012, Levinson moved to California. Not wanting the toads to be forgotten, she contacted The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE), which boarders on the road these particular toads cross, and asked to have her annual toad crossing mission continue. SCEE enthusiastically agreed to continue the annual toad detour. Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator at SCEE, reports the numbers of toads rescued each year has grown from 1,200 in 2012 to 2,000 in 2013.
Classes to train volunteers for the 2014 toad crossing duties have been postponed to March 1st due to the colder weather experienced in the Northeast this year. All kinds of people volunteer to assist with the toad detour, from senior citizens to children in Girl Scout and Boy Scout groups. All are welcome. If any people local to the Philadelphia area are interested in volunteering this year, they can sign up through VolunteerSpot. Once the toads start moving toward the reservoir, volunteers are scheduled between 7 – 9 PM as that is the busiest time for toads and traffic on the road. Keep up about the toad progress on Facebook.
The toad detour project is done entirely with volunteers; there are no grants or money earmarked for the process. SCEE donates Morgan’s time to the project to oversee the process. “Sometimes volunteers miss seeing any toads because the temperature dips and the toads decide not to cross,” said Morgan. “When they do, however, the excitement is tangible.” Morgan reports most of the local residents don’t mind the extra one third of a mile the detour causes them to traverse the neighborhood and take the detour in good stride. “Of course, there are some who complain,” she said “but they are few and far between.”
How Unique is the Philadelphia Toad Crossing?
Morgan said she was contacted last year by a fellow in England reporting there is a place in that country where toads need protection from traffic and volunteers are busy doing what is done in Philadelphia. She is unaware of others but presumes there must be other areas in the world where toads fight traffic to carry out their mating rituals. Do any Care2 readers know of such places? Let us know in the comment section below.
Photo Credit: Kerry Wixted