The toad team at the Houston Zoo hopes that everyone had a wonderful winter holiday. Like a lot of people, we have also made some “resolutions” for 2014; however, they don’t involve hitting the gym or finding a hot date! Instead, we have resolved to release thousands of Houston toad eggs into the wild in and around Bastrop State Park this spring – how about that?!
While most amphibians are still tucked away in their winter hiding places, the Houston toad is getting ready for the breeding season. The Houston toad breeding season typically starts in late January or early February and can last until the first of May depending on rainfall. The first heavy rains of the year generally signal the start of the breeding season and though it is pretty cold this time of year, as long as the nighttime air temperature is around 50F, the toads will come to the pond to find a mate!
Just like the wild toads, we are also gearing up for breeding season here at the Houston Zoo. Like many endangered species that are bred at zoos, the Houston toad program has a breeding plan (called a Species Survival Plan, or SSP) that was designed by toad biologists and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Population Management Center. Using this plan, specific groups of toads are selected to breed with each other to ensure genetic diversity.
Because we are a release program, we have to make sure that each individual toad is free of any potential pathogens that could be passed to the eggs and then spread out into the wild. We started an extensive disease screen in October of 2013, and to date we have cleared 90% of our breeder toads!
Interestingly, the weather plays a huge role in our breeding schedule. It would be silly to produce thousands of toad eggs, then not have any ponds to place them in! We very carefully watch the weather before we decide to breed and release eggs. In fact, because the weather and environmental conditions are so critical, we heavily rely on field researchers from Texas State University and USFWS to help us make the decision to breed. Everyone please continue cross your fingers for rain, the Houston toads need it!
The Houston Zoo and our collaborators at the Fort Worth Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Texas State University, and USFWS are gearing up for a huge release of Houston toad eggs this year. This concerted effort has never been attempted before, but we are excited and ready for the challenge! Could 2014 be the year of the Houston toad? Stay tuned to find out!