This post written by Cassidy Johnson
Spring is upon us, and for lots of folks that means that it is time to get in the garden, grease up the bicycle chains, or clean out the closets; however, for the dedicated staff at the Houston Zoo, spring time is “toad time” – Houston toad time that is!
The Houston toad (Anaxyrus [Bufo] houstonensis), which is only found in southeastern Texas, is one of the most critically endangered amphibians in North America. Though it once called Houston home, only a few, isolated populations remain in Bastrop, Austin, Burleson, Leon, and Lavaca counties. In an effort to save the toad from extinction, the Houston Zoo has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Texas State University to manage a Houston toad captive assurance colony and head start program at the zoo.
Sure this sounds good, but what the heck are a “captive assurance colony” and a “head start” program you ask? A captive assurance colony functions like an ark by housing animals in captivity to ensure that if the remaining wild population disappears that the animals don’t go entirely extinct. Head starting refers to the practice of raising animals to a point where they have a better chance of survival in the wild. In the case of the Houston toad, both wild-collected and captive bred Houston toad eggs are reared through metamorphosis in the facility before being released into the wild. There are a large number of predators that love feeding on toad eggs and tadpoles, therefore raising them in safe environment during these developmental stages will hopefully increase the number of toads that reach adulthood.
Since the Houston Zoo’s toad facility was finalized in 2007, around 20,000 juvenile toads have been released back into the wild. Unfortunately, the extreme drought and the Bastrop complex wildfires of 2011 prevented any releases from taking place during the last two years; however, this year looks like it is shaping up much differently! Though many people are bummed out by gloomy, rainy days, this is exactly what we need to get toads back out in the wild! So cross your fingers and hope for rain!
In addition to the release of head started toads, this spring we will also be releasing a group of adult toads that have been in our facility for over two years. Why have they been at the zoo for so long and what’s so special about this group? Stay tuned for our next post to find out!