Leapin’ lizards! Watch as captive-bred Texas horned lizard hatchlings are released into the wild

Texas Horned Lizard
Texas Horned Lizard (TPWD)

The Texas Horned Lizard, one of the Lone Star State’s threatened species, made its viral internet debut Thursday when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department released a video showing hundreds of captive-bred hatchlings scuttling out into the wild.

“Today, 204 Texas horned lizard hatchlings were released into the wild to restore this threatened species to its home range,” the post stated.

Needless to say, the post proved quite a conversation starter, spawning dozens of comments from Texans wishing the cute creatures well.

“This is exciting!! Have missed the little guys,” commented one person.

Several nostalgic Texans recounted playing with the horny toads as children.

“I loved seeing these as a kid! So glad they are making a comeback. So thankful my grandkids may be able to enjoy them as much as I did as a kid!” commented one person.

“Crazy how they were everywhere around here when I was a kid,” wrote another commenter.

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Known formally as the Phrynosoma cornutum, the Texas horned lizards or “horny toads” were once ubiquitous, roaming nearly every corner of the state, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Over the past several decades, the state’s horned lizard population has seen a steep decline in numbers and geographic range and the species has nearly disappeared from areas where it was once abundant

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the species’ decline is attributed to multiple factors including the loss of natural habitat and the spread of imported fire ants, which displaced the lizard’s preferred food -- native harvester ants.

The lizards are found arid and semiarid habitats in open areas. They dig for hibernation, nesting and insulation purposes and are commonly are found in loose sand or loamy soils, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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The Texas horned lizard is a popular icon of the state’s culture and is the state reptile of Texas and Texas Christian University’s mascot.

For over a decade, the Texas Horned Lizard Coalition, which includes 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. Early on, researchers attempted translocating adult lizards, capturing them in the wild and releasing them into wildlife management areas. Now, efforts have shifted to captive breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos.

The Fort Worth Zoo developed the breeding and husbandry protocols necessary to breed and care for the the lizards in managed collections, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The practices have since been implemented and modeled at several zoos across the state. The Fort Worth Zoo has the state’s longest-run captive breeding program and hatched its 1,000th Texas horned lizard earlier in September.

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Have you seen any Texas horned lizards lately? Where did you see them? Share your animal interactions in the comments below.

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.