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Endangered Horned Lizards hatch at San Antonio Zoo — and get some help from dogs

TX Horned Lizard Hatching 6.JPG
Courtesy San Antonio Zoo
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A new Texas Horned Lizard hatchling.

The San Antonio Zoo is spearheading an effort to bring back the Texas Horned Lizard. Senior Conservation Technician Kamryn Richard says Texans tend to call this lizard by different names, including the Horny Toad or Horned Frog.

The zoo has paired sets of horned lizards to encourage breeding, then carefully hatch the eggs. She says the lizards lost a lot of habitat in the last few decades.

“The factors that led the horn lizard decline led to a lot of other species decline. So these ones happened to be the ones that people connect with and noticed," Richard said. "We are super excited to be working with a species that so charismatic and close to the hearts of many Texans.”

They hope the program over time will turn around the trend that landed Horned Lizards on the endangered species list. 

CCR, TX Horned Lizard Lab.jpg
Courtesy San Antonio Zoo
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Texas Horned Lizard lab.

“We very, very carefully transfer the eggs one by one into our incubators. And that just gives the eggs a better chance at having the exact right temperature and humidity, and it increases our chances of them developing and hatching successfully.”

Once they’re hatched and the lizards grow, they’re ready to be released into the wild.

“And so our idea is to release in areas where there's no longer lizards. We don't want to mess with current populations. Any horned lizards that are still around in Texas have clearly figured out how to do okay. So we work with landowners that have good lizard habitats but no lizards currently.”

They’ve got 34 hatchlings thus far this year. Richard added that their Horned Lizard breeding and release program has an unexpected partner: dogs. Apparently these lizards are good at hiding and are very hard to spot in the wild

Once the hatched lizards are released, specially trained dogs can sniff them out in the wild so that biologists can check to be sure they’ve adapted to their new homes.

“You can imagine on a multi-thousand acre ranch, it becomes very difficult to find them. So that's where the dogs come in. And they've been trained on the smell of the lizards,” Richard said.

The program’s scale isn’t massive — after this year they will have released more than a hundred little horned toads into the wild.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii