Is that a dinosaur? No, it’s a real-life, modern-day animal, the Texas horned lizard - our official state reptile. Once common across Texas, this much-loved lone star icon is now one of more 1,300 species of concern in our state. But there is good news for the little “horned toad.” Already, people are working to save it. But it will take the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to bring the resources needed to save this critter and hundreds like it, plus help our woods and waters, and help people and the economy too.
For more than 10 years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, in cooperation with zoos in Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio, have been studying how to restore Texas horned lizards to formerly occupied habitats. Reintroduction efforts have happened at state-owned wildlife management areas like Mason Mountain and Muse Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). At these places, extensive habitat management and restoration have been key, providing “new homes” for the lizard.
Photo: Texas horned lizard with radio tracking collar (TPWD)
Researchers been translocating adult lizards, capturing them in the wild in some areas, and then releasing them on the WMAs. Scientists have observed what happens afterward, and this has provided a wealth of valuable data to direct future efforts, but it’s also highlighted some challenges. Many relocated lizards die, many of them killed by predators. Normal annual mortality in wild populations can range from 70-90% and scientists have seen similar results with translocated adult lizards. Also, capturing and translocating sufficient adult numbers to establish self-sustaining populations may prove unsustainable long-term.
For these reasons, in recent years the focus has shifted to captive breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos. The plan is to test the feasibility and success of releasing hatchlings, since this can potentially release hundreds of lizards at one time. Texas horned lizards have large clutch sizes with many eggs and can often produce multiple clutches in one year.
You can read about a recent baby horned lizard release in this Statesman article.
Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to self-sustaining wild populations of Texas horned lizards. Recovering America's Wildlife Act would provide breakthrough funding to make this dream a reality. You can help #RecoverWildlife by taking action using our online toolkit.
Hatchling Texas horned lizards to be released, Photo credit: Jim Gallagher
Released Texas horned lizards, Photo credit: Jim Gallagher