Apr 01 2024 6:00 AM

San Antonio Zoo® Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project...

San Antonio Zoo® Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project is Working to Return a Beloved Species to the Lone Star State


CHRISTINE, Texas [March 26, 2024] – What iconic Texas native species feeds on ants but is also impacted by ants? The Texas horned lizard – commonly referred to as the “horny toad” – lives and dies by the state’s ant population. That’s because Phrynosoma cornutum (which means horned toad-body) uses its sticky tongue to feed on red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus). However, it is also vulnerable to the red imported fire ant (Solonopsis Invicta), which may prey on the lizard’s hatchlings, as well as impact the native insects and other terrestrial organisms that are eaten by the lizards.

Along with invasive fire ants, the horny toad is also threatened by fragmentation and loss of habitat, non-native grasses, overuse of pesticides and large-scale agriculture, which have combined to result in the toad’s disappearance from about a third of its historic range since the 1960s.

So, what to do to protect this beloved species? The Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo (CCR) is on the case. Supported by a variety of sponsors – including the San Miguel Electric Cooperative, Inc. – CCR is reintroducing to central Texas the horned lizard, which has been state-listed as threatened since 1967.

In 2017, CCR created a “lizard factory,” a climate-controlled, bio-secure facility that houses a colony of three to five dozen breeder lizards. Breeding, egg laying, incubation and hatching all take place in the laboratory under the watchful eye of trained technicians. Hatchlings are reared in a specialized nursery lab until release. Thanks to donations and grants, CCR recently completed construction of three additional labs (modified shipping containers), quadrupling the program’s lizard capacity.

San Antonio Zoo’s "lizard lounge” was made possible by donations from supporters like the San Miguel Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Freshly hatched horned lizards reside in a specialized nursery lab until release.
The breeding, egg-laying, incubation and hatching of the horned lizards all take place in the laboratory under the watchful eye of trained technicians.

When the young lizards are large enough, CCR stages a release on suitable ranch land, where they are surveyed and monitored in later visits. The most recent of four release events was in October 2023 when 51 lab-bred lizards were released on a Blanco County reintroduction site. Analysis of DNA samples from lizards and scat collected on site indicate that multiple lineages of released lizards are thriving, as well as dispersing to adjacent areas of suitable habitat.

“Each of these events and observations represents a significant milestone for the project and we are heartened to see that years of hard work and patience are paying off,” said Dr. Andrew Gluesenkamp, director of conservation at San Antonio Zoo.

“None of this would be possible without an exceptional team, dedicated partners, passionate landowners and donors,” he said.

In addition to adding lizards and incubator space, CCR has also beefed up its Texas Horned Lizard Detection Canine Network. Those are the dogs that are trained to assist in finding lizard scat (poop), eggs and shed skin to identify individuals and monitor the population. This year, the network added a new training partner and two new dogs.

“Many of us who grew up catching these beloved horny toads in our yards and fields would love to extend that joy to future generations,” said Craig Courter, San Miguel Electric Cooperative General Manager & CEO. “Restoring a healthy population is well worth the support of San Miguel Electric Cooperative, which supplies 47 South Texas counties with an affordable, dependable power supply to fuel their homes and businesses, while protecting the land and the environment.”

For more information on this innovative project, please visit the Texas Horned Lizard Advocacy Guide

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About San Miguel Electric Cooperative, Inc.

San Miguel Electric Cooperative, Inc. is a member-owned mining and power generation cooperative that serves the people of Texas' rural communities, working and living in partnership with its members. Through integrity, hard work and a commitment to safety, San Miguel maintains a dependable power supply at the lowest possible and competitive cost. Visit San Miguel Electric Cooperative for more information.

About San Antonio Zoo

San Antonio Zoo, operating since 1914, is a nonprofit zoological facility committed to securing a future for wildlife. Through its passion and expertise in animal care, conservation, and education, the zoo's mission is to inspire its community to love, engage with, act for and protect animals and the places they live. The zoo welcomes more than a million visitors each year and is open year-round. San Antonio Zoo operates the largest nature-based preschool in the country, Will Smith Zoo School, the Center for Conservation and Research, and Kiddie Park. San Antonio Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Zoological Association of America, and Humane Certified by American Humane.

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About the Center for Conservation and Research

The Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo® is operated by San Antonio Zoological Society, a non-profit organization committed to securing a future for wildlife through a variety of approaches, including fieldwork, scientific study and husbandry of rare, threatened and endangered species. The center is located on the

grounds of San Antonio Zoo and leads or participates in conservation projects across the globe and throughout the United States, with particular emphasis on Texas. Notable projects include the Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project, Mexican Blindcat Conservation Program, Reticulated Flatwood Salamander Project, Georgia Blind Salamander Project, Project Selva in the Peruvian Amazon and studies on organisms directly beneath San Antonio (focused on Edwards Aquifer species, such as the Texas blind salamander).

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