The Houston toad team spends countless hours performing the traditional tasks associated with caring for animals. These tasks includes the cleaning, feeding, medical treatments of the Houston toads, as well as water quality testing, care of the invertebrate cultures, and the general maintenance of the toad facility. However, did you know that the team is also responsible for being toad “match-makers” during the breeding season? Yup, that’s right. Not only are we handy with pH testing strips and power drills, we can also provide professional dating recommendations to Houston toads (now try writing that up on YOUR résumé!)
Like many other endangered species, the breeding of Houston toads is managed a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a document produced by the Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s Population Management Center. The SSP takes into consideration the known genetics of a group of animals and makes recommendations as to who the animals should be paired with. With these guidelines in hand, the Houston toad team evaluates each individual toad from a group of toads approved for breeding, and assesses their health and size. Breeding pairs (or triplets, often one female and two males) are then grouped accordingly. This year we evaluated and paired over 170 individual toads!
Breeding Houston toads is not as easy as placing a male and female toad together. In fact, it is very difficult (but not impossible) to encourage natural breeding captive environments. Here in the toad facility, we use a hormone assisted breeding protocol to ensure successful breeding in our Houston toads. This protocol takes place over the course of several days, and requires a concerted effort between the Houston toad team and the zoo’s veterinary staff.
It would be impossible to breed all 170 toads at one time, so this spring we are staggering the breeding attempts over the course of two months and setting up 6-8 breeding pairs a week. We are happy to announce that our first round of breeding (that ironically began on Valentine’s Day) was a huge success! Out of the 8 total pairings set up, we produced 7 strands which totaled around 27,000 eggs!
So now that our matchmaking efforts were a success, what’s next? Stay tuned to the next blog post to find out what we are doing with all those toad eggs!