Toads on Roads

Toads on Roads

Claire Elliott

To drive alone, on a rainy night, will often consolidate the soul. The vibrations of the music bring inner peace while the watery glisten of warm light on the road offers outer sublimity. With these elements combining into a nearly transcendent harmony, we lose ourselves in contentment and bliss.

However, we are not the only creatures who enrich ourselves in the night’s rain. Amphibians, a true blend of water and life, appear quite attached to the rain and its aftermath. Moreover, this phenomenon does not go unnoticed. In Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko momentarily sheds light on the relationship between the amphibians and precipitation. According to Laguna tradition, frogs are the “rain’s children” (-). Their existence provides a sign of relief from the drought, and reveals the hidden beauty and life of nature.

Unfortunately, toads rarely receive the respect they once did. Instead of admiration, we commit vehicular toadslaughter after every rainfall.

“In the past, I have seen toad carcesses on the road, especially on walks around the neighborhood; it is always a sad sight to see how flat they can end up pressed into the ground,” Caty Curlin said (11).

As evinced in the popular game Frogger, amphibians encounter true peril on the roads. In fact, an experiment run by Hels and Buchwald in 2001 predicted the true proportion of the toad mortality rate on secondary roads to be between .34 and .61. On freeways, this proportion jumps to .89 to .98. That is equivalent to us placing our lives in the odds of winning the highest level of Frogger.

You may criticize these creatures for being out on the roads, claiming it is their fault; that their stupidity led them to this dangerous state. However, unlike humans, toads are not cursed with what we call “rules;” at least not what we consider rules. They spend their days following their desires. Whereas this is so often reckless for us, it is essential to the life of the toad. When the rain floods worms out of the earth, the toads excitedly hop to the roads, prepared to devour. Without this instinct, they would likely starve: toads need moisture to be out and about. Under the heat of the summer sun, they cannot search for grub as well as they could in the rain.

Furthermore, the toads must simply enjoy the atmosphere after a rainfall. The air hugging the skin, the earth replenished, calm and alive. It is the environment meant for a toad. The balance between humidity and coolness allows their amphibian skin to absorb water comfortably and hunt insects successfully.

There, of course, is a third reason that toads emerge. A reason that fully conflicts with the previously mentioned “rules” of humans: mating. From May to July, toads judiciously bring more toads into the world. It appears the toads have ultimately concluded that rainy nights are the best setting for such activities. Ironically, toads seem to be more mindful than us. We procreate all year, while they designate specific times.

So, they follow Nature’s path and rot dead on ours.

However, this amphibian carnage is corrigible; all it takes is a slight turn of the wheel. Literally. According to scientists Marc J. Mazerolle, Matthieu Huot and Marielle Gravel, amphibians (such as the spring peeper, American toad, wood frog, green frog and various salamanders) all remained immoble in response to vehicle stimuli. In fact, of the 2767 amphibians tested, 82% were passive. A toad in the headlights, if you will. Thus, simply avoiding the creature, is the safest option.

Granted, spotting a toad can be a difficult task, as they are masters of disguise.

“After the rain, I do see toads on the road. I think they’re leaves and then they jump, so I can tell they’re toads,” Selah Kolpien (10) said.

Moreover, in wooded areas, leaves and toads are in multitudes. To crush a toad, then, is one of the most frequent of roadkills. While it is often unavoidable, simple precautions can prevent this toadslaughter. Just rotating the wheel of the car just a few degrees upon seeing a toad-like figure can decrease the toad mortality rate.

This act may seem foolish; an unnecessary and even worthless task. It may be. Nevertheless, I remind you that there is no consequence to avoiding a leaf. In fact, the slight movement of the car is almost imperceptible. The death of a toad, however, leaves our world with one less unsullied life. For, beneath the dirt and the muck on the toad’s skin is an innocent creature uncapable of evil.

Originally published in the Spartana Issue 8 (May 2021)