It's that time of year again, when thousands of toads are migrating across busy roads toward their breeding grounds -- and hundreds of human crossing guards are there to make sure they arrive safely without being squashed by cars.
The operation is designed to protect the thousands of local American toads that leave the Schuylkill Center's 340 acres of forest, where they've been sleeping through the winter, to head for a nearby reservoir where they'll make a whole lot of babies.
That's all good, except for the perilous part of the journey that involves crossing two city streets, points out the Schuylkill Center's Claire Morgan. She has the world's best job title, "toad detour coordinator," and the duty of ensuring that traffic is rerouted on nights when the migration is taking place.
To help these critters make it to where they'll be able to make it, volunteers block traffic with plastic barriers for a couple of hours every night, with city permission.
They also help corral any toads that hop outside barricaded areas.
Toad detouring started in 2009, when local animal lover Lisa Levinson noticed toads were meeting their maker instead of their mates. She decided to help them out by organizing volunteers and securing permits to close off the roads. The program's been officially part of the Schuylkill Center since 2011. (You can see some great video from previous years in the documentary at the top of the page.)
Last year, some 300 volunteers including families, scouts and other nature-lovers, guarded more than 2,400 adult toads. That's about twice as many toads as the year before, a boost that Morgan is very excited about.
Here's one of the lucky 13 toads that crossed the road safely last night on the way to the Roxborough Reservoir! Come out and help this week!
Once they're on the move, adults usually travel to the reservoir and back over the course of about 2-3 weeks. That's followed by a lull of about 6-7 weeks, during which time the babies will hatch, then turn from tadpoles into teeny toadlets. There are too many to count, as each female toad can lay between 4,000 and 20,000 eggs.
These little ones then make their own guarded trip from the reservoir and into the wood, where they stay put for about three years to grow and mature (if they successfully avoid becoming food for snakes and birds).
After that, it'll be their turn to head over to the reservoir, with a little help, for a shot at propagating the species.
It's a wonderful, inspiring example of how people can help nature thrive even in an urban environment. And it also sounds just a bit romantic, though for toads, fertilization is external.
While the cycle can begin as early as March 1, the toads have not yet gotten started this year, which Morgan attributes to cold weather. The toads like to sleep in until the weather is over 50 degrees, and who can blame them?
She says it's hard to be sure when to expect the toads will hop to it.
"They don't email me," she says. "I don't know."
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