SAN ANTONIO, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A group of Texas horned lizards hatched in a South Texas zoo this summer were released this week into the wild.
The Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo on Wednesday set free 50 of the zoo-hatched reptiles, known in parts of Texas as “horny toads.” These lizards are listed as a threatened species in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“While all the horny toads released hatched this summer, a clutch of them was born on June 18, Texas Horned Lizard Day,” zoo officials stated in a news release Thursday. “The release into the wild is a tremendous step forward for San Antonio Zoo’s Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project, which will bolster the survival of their species here in South Texas.”
Texas horned lizards are a brownish, flat-bodied reptile with horns throughout its body, including two prominent horns on its head. Their habitat includes arid or semi-arid places with sparse plant cover, according to TPWD.
“This is our 3rd release, and we have seen evidence after each effort that lizards are alive and thriving on the landscape,” said Dr. Andy Gluesenkamp, Director of the Center for Conservation & Research at San Antonio Zoo. “Something I love about this project is not only helping the Texas Horned Lizard but also being able to provide this opportunity to others. We had volunteers, landowners, and naturalists join us on this release, and seeing their participation and excitement is priceless.”
The center has monitored for lizards from previous releases and found signs — well, lizard scat (poop) — in two different areas releases happened in 2020 and 2021, zoo officials said. The scat was sent to Texas Christian University for genetic analysis.
Analysis of scat provides further clues about the released lizard’s life after its release from the zoo.
“Texas horned lizards are incredibly elusive,” Gluesenkamp said. “It is easier to find their scat, which can tell us a lot about the individual. Before release, we document each lizard’s genetics and then connect GPS coordinates to each Texas horned lizard’s release site. Genotyping their scat acts as a fingerprint and allows us to connect the findings to our database, which then tells how old the lizard is and how far they have traveled. Eventually, we will be genotyping wild offspring and identifying which zoo lizards are reproducing.”
To learn more and support the Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project, visit https://sazoo.org/zoo-conservation-efforts/.