A Trek of Toadlets

By Michelle Jackson

It’s that time of year again: the time when thousands of juvenile toadlets make their way from a pair of breeding ponds in South Langley to nearby woodlands where they overwinter and grow into adults.

The Western Toad is threatened by habitat destruction, loss of connectivity between wetland and upland habitat, disease, and (among other things), road mortality. A Rocha has been monitoring the tiny toadlets as they emerge and attempt a harrowing journey across roads since 2013. These surveys involve walking at dusk to count live and dead toads on local roads near the breeding ponds. This year, toads were first observed emerging from the ponds on June 29. A Rocha staff and interns are still in the process of estimating abundance, but it looks to be a fairly normal, if slightly larger, toad count compared to previous years.

Along with estimating abundance, A Rocha has been actively implementing protection measures to ensure that as many toadlets as possible make it safely across the roads. We have partnered with the Township of Langley to erect road signs alerting drivers to go slow and avoid roads used by toadlets if they don’t live in the area. We’ve also built a fence to divert the toads through a culvert under one of the most heavily crossed roads. The fence was first tested in 2019, but in 2020 the fence was not built because of COVID-related lack of staff and volunteer capacity. Unfortunately, significantly more dead toadlets were observed on the roads last year. This year, however, the fence is back and appears to be working well! Approximately 360 m in length and running through private property (with the gracious permission of a dedicated landowner), the fence was completed in the nick of time on July 2, just as toadlets were entering the area.

So far, only two toadlets have been observed on the road (both dead, sadly), while hundreds have been observed using the fence and culvert. This is promising news as we strive to protect these amazing creatures in our watershed. Toad surveys will continue throughout the breeding season, which runs through July into early August. We rely heavily on the efforts of our volunteers and the dedicated landowners who allow us access to their properties. It takes a village to protect the toads!