Why Didn’t The Frogs Cross the Road?

By Justin Johansen and Guy Dauncey

Published in Take 5 Magazine, December 2021-January 2022

Andrew Reding, Flickr

If you have driven along Tiesu Road, just south of Hemer Provincial Park, you might have noticed that the road was littered with grayish-white debris in an area where two small ponds almost meet up. Unfortunately, the debris is the site of a mass slaughter: it’s the corpses of dozens of small frogs, killed by passing traffic. Sadly, on Tiesu Road, the ‘red’ from the Northern Red-legged Frog is no longer a reference to their reddish legs, but to their small disembowelled bodies being crushed by passing vehicles.

Why are there so many frog deaths on the road? They are there because there’s a pond on either side of the road and they like to cross from one pond to the other, especially during the breeding season. When you factor in the 60 km/hr speed limit, and how well the frogs blend in with the road, it’s understandable that it’s hard for drivers to avoid hitting them. From what I have observed, the frogs are incredibly unaware of the danger they are in. In contrast to other small animals such as squirrels and birds they like to sit in the middle of the road, unmoved and unphased by the large moving objects moving rapidly towards them. Their blissful unawareness of danger does not give them much incentive to cross the road, much less to leave it. It seems that many of the frogs just like to hang out there.

What can be done? In Hungary, back in 1988, volunteers with a Toad Action Group physically carried 8,600 amphibians across roads. In England, members of the Madingley Toad Rescue group rescued more than 30,000 amphibians between 1994 and 1999, recording only 2000 casualties. In Switzerland, some roads are actually closed during peak migration times.

The commonest solution is to build a frog tunnel under the road, to allow safe passage. They have been built in many European countries since the 1970s, and three 17-metre-long tunnels were built under the Tofino-Ucluelet highway just last year. Dr. Barb Beasley, of the Association of Wetland Stewards for Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds, says “They move back and forth, so they’re like these little nutrient energy packets moving through the forest. It’s a migratory animal that is taking nutrients across the landscape so, if we block them off or kill them off at roadways, then we’re interrupting that whole ecosystem process and that’s not a good thing to do.”

The frogs are often reluctant to enter a dark passage, however. When there is light, by one means or another, the time they take to pass through can be dramatically reduced. A tunnel needs fencing or walls on either side of the two entrances to guide the frog in, and it needs to be  layered with branches, rocks and dirt, to make it feel more natural. If you are concerned that predators might use the tunnels to hunt for frogs, fear not: research shows that frogs can move through them easily enough, without being caught.

A well-designed frog tunnel on Tiesu Road could hopefully save the lives of many frogs. As well as being inherently entitled to life, just as we are, they play an important part in their ecosystems as both predators and prey, and by feeding on algae, their tadpoles help keep the waters clean. We in the Yellow Point Ecological Society want to do whatever we can to save the frogs. If you have any thoughts about creating about a frog tunnel on Tiesu, or elsewhere, feel free to contact Justin at justinnet@live.ca, and I would be happy to discuss how we can save the frogs! To learn more, go to www.conservationevidence.com/actions/884.

Natalie McNear, Flickr
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