Horned Lizard Hatchling Release Marks Milestone
Discovery offers proof of breeding success in the wild for zoo-raised hatchlings.
Once common, the Texas horned lizard is now one of more than 1,200 species of concern across the state. But there is good news for the little “horned toad.” In the fall of 2021, a coalition of zoos and wildlife scientists released 263 captive-raised hatchlings into the wild (159 of them hatched at the Fort Worth Zoo), following new evidence that previously released lizards are now reproducing.
Meanwhile, a landmark bipartisan proposal now moving through Congress, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, would bring the resources needed to save this species and hundreds like it.
This past August at Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area, after years of captive-raised hatchling releases, TPWD biologists and graduate students discovered a breakthrough milestone. They found 25 lizards believed to be offspring of zoo-raised hatchlings released in 2019. To their knowledge, this marks the first time that captive-reared horned lizards have survived long enough to successfully reproduce in the wild.
For more than 10 years, the Texas Horned Lizard Coalition — the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Christian University and zoos in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio and elsewhere — has been studying how to restore Texas horned lizards to formerly occupied habitats. Reintroduction efforts have happened at TPWD’s Mason Mountain and Muse wildlife management areas and on private land through pilot projects.
In recent years, the focus has shifted from relocating adult lizards to breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos, which makes it possible to breed and release hundreds of lizards at once. Texas horned lizards have large clutch sizes with many eggs, often with multiple clutches each year.
The Fort Worth Zoo has the longest-running captive breeding effort in Texas and, in fact, the zoo hatched its 1,000th Texas horned lizard last fall.
Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to self-sustaining wild populations of Texas horned lizards. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide the funding needed to make this dream a reality.
TPWD Staff; Chase Fountain | TPWD
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