A real-life version of the video game Frogger is taking place on the roads surrounding the Upper Roxborough Reservoir in Philadelphia as thousands of toads make the annual migration to the water, to mate.
And the most dangerous predator they face along the way is on four wheels.
Cars driven down Port Royal Avenue and Hagys Mill Road in Roxborough threaten to kill the migrating toads every spring. That is why a team of volunteers with The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education comes to the rescue each year with The Toad Detour.
The Toad Detour sets up barricades around the reservoir to keep cars from running over the creatures. That means that the volunteers must stand by the barricades and explain to any drivers what the detour is all about.
"We don’t want to prevent anyone from going to church," explained Claire Morgan, who coordinates the volunteers. The hope is that drivers are okay with the slight inconvenience for the sake of nature. If that's not enough incentive, maybe it helps to remember that toads do their part at reducing the fly and mosquitoes populations.
Morgan held a volunteer orientation on Saturday at The Schuylkill Center, which included a family-friendly presentation about the toads’ migration habits during the spring and early summer months.
The Schuylkill Center has a permit to put up the barricades from March 1st until June 30th, however, they wait to start The Toad Detour until they actually witness toads starting to make their way to the water.
Morgan said, "they move at their own pace," so while they are in the middle of crossing the street they now don't have to deal with being run over while the barricades are up.
The barricades are usually in place only between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. This time allows for thousands of toads to safely migrate each year. After 9 p.m., there is less danger because fewer cars are on the road.
American toads, the most common in this area, migrate to a body of water to mate and breed. They have been making the trek to the Upper Roxborough Reservoir for years.
Morgan played the very high pitch mating call of the male toads for the volunteers to hear during her presentation. It sounded a lot different than the deep croaking and ribbit sounds people normally associate with toads and frogs.
After the adult toads have mated, they eventually go back across the street to their original habitats. Several weeks later, toadlets as big as a dime make their journey back across the street, joining their parents.
Part of the excitement each year is the challenge of counting the toads. Volunteers get a bucket and a tally sheet that they use to tally the number of toadlets they find, both alive and dead.
Toads can lay anywhere between 4,000 and 20,000 eggs.
"That’s a lot of tadpoles," said Morgan.
She explained to the prospective volunteers and Toad Detour veterans that some of the best counters are children and sometimes they are as young as four years old. They have an advantage because they're closer to the ground.
The toads will make their first commute at night when the temperature is above 50 degrees, and the ground is a little moist. When they do emerge, The Toad Detour volunteers will be ready. Volunteers sign up for shifts ahead of time. However, The Toad Detour’s facebook page alerts volunteers to any toad activity spotted around the Schuylkill Center’s grounds.
All ages are encouraged to volunteer to protect the toads and even a few Girl Scout Troops have already signed up to help the cause. People and organizations interested in volunteering can find out more at The Schuylkill Center website and the Toad Detour facebook page.