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'Toads Gone Wild,' Roxborough-style

Streets will close for annual mating migration

WHEN LOVE IS in the air, the last thing one might be thinking about is the Philadelphia Streets Department.

But the Streets Department is thinking of the amorous toads of Upper Roxborough. It has issued a permit to close Eva Street and part of Port Royal Avenue for that neighborhood's annual toad migration.

Whenever the toads get around to making it, that is.

The migration is a mating ritual during which the toads leave the woods around the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and head for the Roxborough Reservoir to find a toad of the opposite sex.

Rainy weather and a series of warm days are their siren song to burrow out from the loose soil where they have spent the winter in dormancy and kick up their heels.

Volunteer toad-spotters are prowling the roads at twilight to alert the toads' protectors to put up city-approved temporary detour signs.

The Streets Department permit was the outcome of a drive spearheaded by animal activist Lisa Levinson to keep the green-and-brown amphibians - identified by naturalist Doug Wechsler as American toads - from being squashed by cars using the side roads to avoid stoplights on Ridge Avenue.

"For the past three years [during the mating ritual], the toad population has steadily declined due to traffic fatalities," said Levinson, director and co-founder of Public Eye: Artists for Animals, a project of Mobilization For Animals Pennsylvania Inc.

"Witnesses report fifty percent fewer toads migrating each year," she said.

"On the main migration night in 2008, 100 dead toads were counted on the road, while only 25 were observed crossing the road over a two-hour period," Levinson said.

"I saw the migration myself on my way home from work" four years ago, she said. "A couple hundred toads trying to cross the road.

"The next year I started trying to help the toads cross," standing in the roadway asking drivers to slow down.

"The police were called - about me. So they came out to see if there was something wrong with me."

When she tried to get the authorities involved last year, she said, "they told me to call 9-1-1. So I did.

"They brought two [police] cars and they just closed down [a] portion of the road for a couple of hours. They were very, very understanding."

If toad-spotters sight the amphibians, then a phone tree, text messsages and e-mail will bring out about 50 volunteers to help with temporary road-detour signs, Levinson said.

"It's early right now for breeding - usually it's in April," said Wechsler, who works at the Academy of Natural Sciences and has written for kids about frogs.

Although some others have placed the toads' mating ritual later, Wechsler says that he's seen the amphibians make their trip to the reservoir as early as April 2.

"If the weather gets warm and stays warm for a little while, especially if there's a little rain," the toads could just hop off early to toad nirvana, he said.

For more info on the toad migration, click on http://www.schuylkillcenter