Texas Horned Lizard release, research efforts mark breakthrough in saving species

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Posted at 3:50 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 22:16:34-04

The Texas horned lizard is one of more than 1,300 species of greatest conservation need in Texas.

However, Thursday marks a milestone for the reptile as 204 captive-raised hatchlings are released into the wild.

For 10 years, The Texas Horned Lizard Coalition, in conjunction with Texas Parks and Wildlife, has been studying how to reintroduce the 'horned toad' to its formerly occupied habitats.

These reintroduction efforts occurred in wildlife management areas where horned lizards are essentially provided vital new habitats, according to TPWD.

"Texas horned lizards have large clutch sizes with many eggs, often with multiple clutches each year," said TPWD. "Researchers tried translocating adult lizards, capturing them in the wild and then releasing them on the WMAs. This provided a wealth of valuable data, but it also highlighted challenges. Many relocated lizards died, killed by predators."

Additionally, capturing and moving adult lizards from one location to another to establish self-sustaining populations may not be a long-term option said TPWD.

"For these reasons, in recent years the focus has shifted to captive breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos, which makes it possible to breed and release hundreds of lizards at once," said Texas Parks and Wildlife.

A recent discovery in August at the Mason Mountain Wild Management Area indicated a breakthrough with these efforts. Biologists and graduates discovered 18 hatchlings, believed to be offspring of zoo-raised hatchlings released in 2019, thriving in their homes.

"To their knowledge, this marks the first time that captive-reared horned lizards have survived long enough to successfully reproduce in the wild," said TPWD. "Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to self-sustaining wild populations of Texas horned lizards."

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, a landmark bipartisan proposal, Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, can provide the funding to save this species and hundreds of others.

Anyone interested in helping can visit the Texas Wildlife Alliance online toolkit.