Last week we introduced everyone to Red, one of the many Houston toads that we are caring for here at the Houston Zoo. Red is a member of a group of toads that we refer to as the Leon county toads, which were collected and head-started from an egg strand that was found in Leon County, Texas (for an explanation of what head-starting is, please see the previous blog post). Unfortunately, we were unable to release this group of toads the year they were collected and they have been with us at the zoo ever since. Now, 3 years after the eggs were originally found, these toads may finally have an opportunity to be released back into the wild!
One of the reasons it has taken so long to get Red and her siblings back out into the Texas landscape is because the Houston toad is considered a habitat specialist. What is a habitat specialist? A habitat specialist requires a very specific environment in which to live. Houston toads require deep, sandy soil as well as an over story, which is a fancy term for “tree cover.” During the hot summer months, Houston toads actually bury themselves in the sand (called estivation) under the shade of trees and logs to escape the heat. The Houston toad also needs water in the form of lakes, ponds, or ditches in the early spring for reproduction.
Have you ever found a toad underneath an outdoor trashcan or within the coils of your garden hose? Most likely you have discovered the daytime hiding place for a Gulf Coast toad, the toad that most folks see in their yards. The Gulf Coast toad is considered a habitat “generalist” in that it can make a home almost anywhere without the necessity of sand or other specific environmental features. Because they are not picky about where they live, the Gulf Coast toad has adapted much better to living with humans, whereas the Houston toad has not. Gulf Coast toads still require water for hydration and breeding, which is why you might catch one sitting in your dog’s water bowl on summer nights!
It took several years to locate land with the right environmental requirements where the Leon county toad “refugees” could be released. (But we’ve finally found a great place – yay!) Most of the land in Texas is privately owned, so are relying heavily on collaborations with local landowners to help us bring this species back. Thanks to everyone out there that is involved in the program!
Though Houston toads prefer sandy soil, we don’t actually keep them on sand in the facility. Want to know why not? We’ll tell you all about in our toad husbandry post next week!