The iconic Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) is the state reptile of Texas and was once abundant across the western two-thirds of the state. Since the late 1960s, horned lizard populations have declined or disappeared in many areas due to a variety of factors, including deterioration, fragmentation, and loss of habitat; non-native invasive species such as exotic grasses and red imported fire ants; and pesticide use. Many Texans have fond memories of the Texas horned lizard (aka “horny toad”) and wish for its return to its former abundance.
The establishment of viable horned lizard populations requires the production of large numbers of hatchling lizards from CCR’s “Lizard Lab.” The lab is a 450-square foot room and the former receiving bay of the zoo’s warehouse that has been modified to include two sets of timer-controlled power outlets (one for UV lights and one for basking lights) and heavily insulated exterior walls. This room houses all breeder adults and seasonally serves as the “Lizard Nursery” for hatchling lizards.
Young lizards are introduced to the release site in early Fall, and the property is monitored for horned lizard activity at regular intervals. CCR has partnered with Paul Bunker, owner of Chiron K9, to develop the Horned Lizard Detection Canine Network, a group of volunteer handlers and their canines who are trained to find horned lizards. Dogs are trained with live horned lizards, scat, eggs, and shed skin so that they may detect any traces of Texas horned lizards in the field. This partnership with Chiron K9 provides CCR with an efficient long-term method for monitoring lizards post-release and helps to ensure the overall success of the project.
By re-establishing horned lizard populations and encouraging voluntary management that benefits native biodiversity, CCR hopes to improve native biodiversity across Texas and promote awareness and appreciation of this species for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. CCR’s long-term project goal is to develop replicable methodologies to share with other conservation entities to ultimately ensure the return of this beloved species to places where its absence is so deeply felt.