“Toad Ferries” Protect Baltimore County Amphibians During Yearly Mating Commute: Report
BALTIMORE COUNTY - In the early morning hours of April Fools Day in 1999, hundreds of toads were brutally run over while trying to cross one of Baltimore County’s darkest roads.
One resident who saw the carnage vowed never to let it happen again. Lisa Lewenz and a small army of “toad ferries” have kept that promise for the last 25 years, helping thousands of American toads reach their mating spot.
“Since 1999, if you’ve slammed your brakes along Bellona Avenue near Lake Roland, panicked by the sight of a dozen sopping-wet lunatics scamper- ing near the road’s edge, snatching at flopping blobs illuminated by a flashlight’s glare – no worries – it’s just us. We’re Toad Faeries,” Lewenz wrote in 2017.
Every year, small male toads affix themselves to the backs of larger females as they make their way to a weeks-long spawning party in a shallow pool. After the mating is finished, the toads return to their woods, puddles, and marshes until nature again calls on them to procreate.
Toads may not be the first creature that comes to mind when considering environmental preservation. Still, their habitats and spawning grounds are disappearing as climate change affects their seasonal mating cycles. The oft-maligned amphibians are crucial to the local ecosystem, eating mosquitoes and other bugs that put a damper on Maryland summer fun.
During her first toad ferry outing, Lewenz was equipped with little more than a trash bag and an umbrella. Since that fateful day, she has gathered a group of 30 toad wranglers equipped with fluorescent vests, rechargeable flashlights, visible road signs, and markers, the Baltimore Banner reports.
Gina Takaoka, 33, a recent addition to the team, says that she was only allowed to join the ferries after she told Lewenz how she “came into the circle.” Lewenz keeps the exact location of the group’s work private to protect the local habitat and her organization.
“I definitely have not seen this many toads in one place,” Takaoka, a tattoo artist studying to be a master naturalist, told the Banner.
Spacey Chambers, another toad ferry teammate, told the Banner that although saving toads is rewarding, it can be difficult work.
“This isn’t for the weak-willed,” Chambers said. “I care about the environment. I am always kind of game for something. I think it’s important to support strange women doing wondrous things in the world.”
As of 2023, Lewenz has been saving toads for long enough to remember some specific individuals, including a sizeable black toad nicknamed Nefertiti.
You can visit the Maryland Herps Facebook Page to learn more about amphibian preservation and "herping" in Maryland.