Bastrop State Park Volunteer Work Parties to Save the Houston Toad, By Dale Martin

As most people in Texas know, early September 2011 brought a devastating wildfire to the Bastrop state Park.  A few park structures built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930’s were damaged, thousands of trees burned along with acres and acres of underbrush. An endangered species resident of the Park became even more endangered: The Houston Toad. 

From December 2011 thru February 2012, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department led six volunteer work parties to restore the banks around the known Houston toad ponds in Bastrop State Park.  Though people were hoping the toads made it okay, surveys of the area have resulted in no Houston Toad calls being heard at some of the ponds. 

Friday, January 27, I drove up to Bastrop State Park from Houston and set up camp in the Deer Run campground for a two-night stay.  A few weeks prior, I had signed up for the January 28 volunteer work party.

Saturday morning, at 8:30am, I and 62 other volunteers gathered at The Refectory, checked in, received our hard hats and instructions from TPWD Park Interpreter/Volunteer Coordinator Katie Raney.  She, her team of TPWD staffers, and the 63 volunteers were going to caravan out to pond #2 to put down mulch along the pond and drainage banks. 

The ground cover had been burned off leaving nothing in the way of cover for any Houston Toads who may emerge from their underground burrows to call to females or hear and respond to male calls.  Providing 50% coverage of mulch provides some camouflage for the toads while they are on the surface and provides something they can hide under to avoid predators. The mulch is also important for promoting plant growth and helping to attract insects…just what the toads need.  

We arrived at and parked on the shoulder of the roadway near some big piles of mulch–about 10 or 20 cubic yards or more.  Katie walked us out to the pond about 200-300 yards from the road and showed us what she wanted in the way of mulch coverage.  Six of us stayed at the pond as the rest of the group strung themselves along the route back to the road

Volunteers began shoveling mulch into the tall, orange,  Home Depot buckets.  The buckets were passed from person to person down to the pond area where six of us took the incoming buckets as they arrived and shook out mulch between the high-water mark and the tree line. 

As we worked our way towards the road, the line got more compressed and became more like an actual bucket brigade where a bucket (or buckets) was passed hand-to-hand without any steps being taken by the passers. 

Once the mulch distributors reached the road, Katie declared it was time for a lunch break.  We had mulched the north side of the pond and the north bank of the pond drainage to the roadway. 

After lunch, as we again formed a bucket brigade line to feed the mulch distributors, I opted to be part of the line. 

Apparently, we were either so fired up from lunch or we had all gotten much better at passing buckets because we finished mulching the south side of the pond and its drainage banks in half the time it took us to do the north bank in the morning.  Once we put our equipment away–shovels, rakes, buckets, hard hats, etc–Katie thanked us and everyone left for home. 

Early Saturday morning, February 11, I drove up to Bastrop State Park to again participate in the last volunteer work party of the season–it is close to toad breeding season and Park staff don’t want to disrupt the toads’ activities.

This time, we went to toad pond #8, a pond which toad specialists had heard Houston toads calling earlier in the week.  Just like the work party a couple of weeks ago, we set up a bucket-brigade line between the mulch pile and the pond, and a mulch distribution team at the pond.  The first buckets started down the line about 10:00am.

Unknown to us down at the pond or along much of the bucket-brigade line, there was some unexpected excitement at the mulch pile: Someone uncovered a coral snake that had been hunkered down in the pile, likely staying warm during the 30-degree temperatures that night and morning. A TPWD staffer was posted to guard the snake from curious volunteers who wanted to look at it. 

By about noon, we finished putting down a 50%-coverage of mulch on the banks of the pond. Katie declared our work complete and led us through the Park back to our cars.

Dale Martin is a wonderful long time devoted volunteer at the Houston Zoo.  He assists our staff photographer and the web team.  

If you want to hear more about how the Houston Toads are doing after the Bastrop fires join us at the Zoo for our Wildlife Speaker Series  event on Friday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m.  Get up close and personal with a live Houston Toad and get an update on the wild Toads from our Amphibian Conservation Manager, Paul Crump.  Dr. Michael Lannoo of Indiana University School of Medicine will give a presentation titled: A Window into the Global Amphibian Crisis: Discovering the Biology of North America’s Most Secretive Frog, the Crawfish frog, as it Approaches Extinction.  Buy your tickets HERE.

Come Learn About a Texas Frog That Likes Mudbugs Just Like You!

– Post by Rachel Rommel

Crawfish season will soon be upon us and thousands of Texans will adorn bibs, dirty fingers and puckered lips to feast on the juicy tails of mudbugs. Although almost all of our crayfish is presently farmed to satiate the massive appetites for those craving these critters in the southern states, did you know that we have over 350 species of wild crayfish in North America, four of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act?

Crayfish are very important to the food web and are food for many water and land dwelling animals. Birds, fish, reptiles, mammals and amphibians all use these little guys as a food source. One in particular, known as the Crawfish frog, not only likes to eat crayfish, but also lives in their burrows! They are one of the most elusive, shy and beautiful amphibians inTexasand sadly, just like so may other amphibians, they are disappearing all over North America and maybe here inTexastoo.

Watch this awesome video of a male Crawfish frog calling and let me know what you think.

Please join the Houston Zoo on March 9th when we welcome Dr. Michael Lannoo who will present A Window into the Global Amphibian Crisis: Discovering the Biology of North America’s Most Secretive Frog as it Approaches Extinction. If you are an amphibian, prairie, or environmental enthusiast you must not miss this presentation! Dr. Lannoo’s love for this species shines through and his enthusiasm is truly infectious. Even the most hardened character cannot help but fall in love with this mysterious little frog.

“Whether as author, university professor, muddied researcher in a marsh, featured expert talking with kids about amphibian declines, or opponent in the political arena with Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s plan to drop funding for most deformed frog research, Dr. Michael “The Thinker” Lannoo loses no opportunity to go to the mat for amphibians.” -ChicagoFieldMuseum

There will also be an opening presentation by the Houston Zoo’s own Amphibian Conservation Manager, Paul Crump, who will be updating us on the status of theHoustontoad after theBastropfires. Our ambassadorHoustontoads will be present too! Come show your support cause frogs need lovin’ too!

Photo of a Texas Crawfish frog that was taken in the fall of 2011. Only a handful of Texas Crawfish frog photos exist.

Kids for Science, AND TOADS! @ Painted Dog Conservation- Zimbabwe


At the request of Painted Dog Conservation, I traveled to project headquarters in Zimbabwe to assist in the implementation of a new conservation education program called “Kids for Science”. Accompanying me on this visit was Cullen Geiselman PhD (HZI Board Member member and bat biologist), and her friend, Leighton Dancy, a professional photographer who documented PDC activities and programs. During our visit we would pilot the first ever Kids for Science program for eleven, 14 year old students from Nechilibi High School, the students’ full time teacher, their school’s Conservation Club Coordinator, the entire education staff from Painted Dog Conservation, Dr. Gregory, one master’s student, and a game warden from Hwange National Park.

It might seem unlikely that a conservation organization focused on a large charismatic carnivore would be interested in using frogs and toads to teach students about research, biology and conservation. Amphibians lend themselves to classroom study as they are an ecological indicator species in a habitat in which the Painted Dog depends on survival, are relatively abundant, easily handled, and observed by students. Amphibians are a model organism in which to cover taxonomy, biology, adaptations, ecological concepts, environmental threats and how students can help implement conservation action.

Before the students from Nechilibi High School were to arrive at the Painted Dog Conservation Iganyana Bush Camp, Dr. Cullen and I had to scout out potential study sites for the Kids for Science camp and become familiar with the native amphibians and bats we would be teaching the students about throughout the course. I conducted nightly visual and audio searches to document the presence of amphibian species in the area and became familiar with their natural history and behavior through observation and field guides. In addition to visual searches, I employed the use of a “Frog logger”, a wildlife acoustic recording device at a pan adjacent to our lodgin accommodations to record vocalizations for 10 minutes every hour throughout the day and night. I recorded close to 2,000 minutes of amphibian and bird calls over the course of our stay at Painted Dog Conservation and documented 16 species of amphibians.

Here are a few photos of some of the special frogs and toads that call Zimbabwe home.


Rain frogs, these are burrowing, frowny faced little frogs whose tadpoles develop directly from egg to small frog without metamorphosis











Foam Nesting Grey Treefrogs, these frogs communally deposit their eggs into this rich foam that is whipped up by their back legs. The eggs are protected by this foam until they hatch and the tadpoles fall into the water below. Amazing adaptation!















Marbeld Shovel Nosed Frog. These pointy nosed little burrowing frogs are great moms. They protect their eggs in underground burrows and when they hatch, tadpoles are carried on moms back from the burrow to a nearby pond.
















More frogs photos coming over the next few days, I hope you can sleep until I post more!


The Houston Zoo is Toad (and Bat) Tracking with Painted Dog Conservation

Houston Zoo Conservation Program Manager Rachel Rommel is in Zimbabwe with our partners at Painted Dog Conservation to bring the Houston Zoo’s Toad Trackers program to their evironmental education programing.

The Houston Zoos good friend, conservation board member and bat biologist, Cullen Geiselmen is also with me on this adventure with another colleague, and professional photographer from Austin, who will be photographing the kids in action during Toad Trackers. Cullen hopes to be able to mist net for bats so the kids will be able to learn about these creatures as well. She should have plenty of bats to choose from as there seems to be hundreds sleeping in the ceiling above our beds, sqeaking and chattering away. A little unnerving at first, but now quite peaceful when you are falling asleep. I wonder what they are saying to each other? Sounds important.

So first, things first, before the kids come, we need to do some reconaissance. The next several nights will be spent becoming aquainted with the local frogs, as I have never been here before! I have set up frog recording devices at local pans (ponds created by the wallowing of large animals). We are getting important data all day and night and will be able to identify many of the species from their calls. When the kids get here, they will go through this information as well and learn the frogs by sight and sound.

We have been out the last two evenings looking for amphibians and have been quite lucky thanks to the rains. Several unique and strikingly gorgeous species have been found. Whenever we go to the pans at night we go as a group and have a guard with us as well because of the likelihood of predators skulking about. Not something I generally have to worry about in Texas. Maybe thats why there doesnt seem to be too many herpetologists in this part of Africa…perhaps they were all eaten by lions?

Stay tuned for Amazing Amphibian photographs.  Here is one of our night guard who actually was a great frog spotter as well, he really got into it! Holding the Bocage’s tree frog that he found.


The Houston Zoo shares Toad Trackers with Painted Dog Conservation

Houston Zoo Conservation Program Manager, Rachel Rommel is in Zimbabwe with our partners at Painted Dog Conservation to bring the Houston Zoo’s Toad Trackers program to their childern’s environmental education programing.  Enjoy Rachel’s update from Zimbabwe.

“It’s my first visit to Africa and I am honored to be able to visit and work with such a beautiful, happy and warm people…the Zimbabweans. I am visiting our partners here at painted Dog Conservation just outside of Hwange National Park.

The crew here have been joking that we brought rain with us as they have been in a drought and the wet season is starting very late. They got the first good rain not two days before our arrival. This is good news for crops and water collection and also lucky me because that means lots of frogs, and alas, that is why we are here!

When the night falls in the Savannahs of Zimbabwe, and most of the large mammals have hunkered down for the evening, a whole other host of small creatures emerge from their hiding places, shake their groove things, and one group in particular puts on the most amazing live orchestra you have ever heard, natures radio (as one local gentlemen called it) the frogs and toads.

I am here visitng to trial the Houston Zoos conservation education program, called Toad Trackers, with the local kids who have been through the PDC bush camp. The Director of the project, Dr. Greg Rasmussen, is hoping to identify science based and hands on kids programs that will eventually be a part of their Kids for Science program. Students will be visiting us from a local village where they will be spending three days with me learning all about native amphibians and actually going out in the field with us at night. The PDC education staff will be with us at all times, as well as two other guests that have joined me on this trip. The kids and the education staff are very excited about this opportunity. Who knows, perhaps we have some budding biologists amongst these students?”



Two new little endangered toads emerge from the water at the Houston Zoo! Check out these cuties!

We have some super dooper exciting news coming from behind the scenes at the Houston Zoo! For the first time since the 1980’s, we have successfully bred the highly endangered Houston toad in captivity resulting in the existence of two of the cutest little toadlets you are likely to ever lay your eyeballs on.

Due to extreme droughts in 2011 we were unable to head start Houston toad eggs from the wild so efforts are now underway to breed them in captivity. Headstarting is a process by which we remove eggs from the wild, raise the tadpoles at the Zoo, and then release them back at the pond. Because there has not been enough rain, the wild Houston toads have not been able to emerge and migrate to breed and lay eggs.

The Houston toad was the first amphibian ever placed on the endangered species list and is one of our most endangered animals in Texas! Current estimates are that only 200-300 adults may remain in the wild.

We have a captive assurance colony of Houston toads at the Zoo to keep the species from going extinct if conditions get even worse in the wild and efforts to breed these animals started in July.

From a breeding event on July 19th we now have two little captive bred Houston toads that have gone through the tadpole stage in just under three weeks and have popped out all of their legs, developed lungs, and have crawled out of the water.

Their names are Ignacio and Santiago…affectionately so by thier keeper, Aleyda.

Please give the Houston toad and Veterinary Team some congrats on their big success! Hopefully more good news to come as breeding attempts started again this week and we have more eggs! Stay tuned….

Ignacio the tadpoleSantiago the tadpole
Ignacio the tadpole!



Santiago the toadlet!


Ignacio the toadlet! Still has some tail!





Backyard Toad Spotters!

I love it when our Houston Zoo patrons contact me to share their stories about native wildlife (especially amphibians) in their own backyards. I especially love it when they become so interested that they give these frogs and toads their own fancy names, observe their daily activities, and actually do things to make the toads more comfortable living in an urban environment. Lets face it, it has got to be hard for a little googly eyed toad living in the city and they can use all of the help we can offer them! Toads, and other reptiles and amphibians, are constantly dodging a gambit of dangerous threats such as moving cars, shovels, domestic cats, and concrete being laid on top of their heads!

Janet Denton is one such fabulous Houstonian who attended our Texas Amphibian Workshop back in May and now has become quite familiar with some of the little Coastal Plains Toads calling her backyard their home. These fantastic toads can live in Janets back yard for up to 10 years gobbling up mosquitos and other pesky insects. Go Janet Dentons toads! Do your thing toads!

Janet found that she also has several little toad tadpoles in her small,  man made pond in her back yard, so she has put in a ramp so that the little toads can hop out of the pond once they go through metamophosis. She has also offered them a nutritious and organic collared green leaf which is full of vitamins and nutrients for the little growing polliwogs. One of her little tadpoles has already come out of the water- SEE PHOTO BELOW! Did you know that tadpoles are vegetarians and adult toads are carnivores? They make the switch once they develop their lungs, grow their legs, and pop out of the water.

Here are some photos below of Janet Dentons backyard toads and tadpoles.

Do you have stories of your backyard creatures that you can share?

Toad Que sat on the wheel of our BBQ for three straight nights!
Hopps is one of my favorites. Very brave, not scared of me or the dogs.
Piper likes to hang out in the overflow pipe to the pond and watch the world go by.
You can see a few tadpoles enjoying their collard green.
I'm so excited to announce the sighting of my first toadlet! He (she?) was hopping across the patio at about 8:00 this morning!

Adventurous Families Wanted!

Sign up now for a unique Wild Winks opportunity to spend the night at the Zoo and assist Conservation Biologist staff from the Zoo in studying a population of wild amphibians!

Use Calipers to Measure Live Toads!

Imagine you and your kids equipped with head lamps and field equipment, something right out of your own National Geographic show! You will capture, measure and weigh live toads and assist an amphibian biologist to tag the animals for future tracking.

Round out the evening with a hearty field dinner of hot pizza and curl into your sleeping bag after a full night’s work in the wilds of the Houston Zoo.

The Toad Trackers program is quite the unforgettable experience. Whether you had childhood dreams of being a wildlife biologist or you have children with a budding interest in wildlife biology and conservation now, this program is for you. Connect with your family through experiencing nature and work as your very own scientist team!

Moms, Dads, photographic opportunity of a lifetime! You and Toads, oh my!

Sign up now for limited summer opportunities!

To learn even more about Toad Trackers visit here.

Toad Tracker Shows Off Her Toad Handeling Technique- Learn this skill and more in Toad Trackers!!!

It's Time to have a TOADally Awesome Fathers Day!

Just say NO to tacky ties!

Fathers Day is creeping up, and now that you’ve learned some about the Dads residing at the Houston Zoo, it’s time to finally pin down the perfect plan for that special dad in your life. As always, we are looking out for you and know not only the perfect gift, but the perfect way to celebrate too.

You’ve probably gotten dad a striped tie or two, some tools and lawn equipment (how fun for him!) and a lunch at The Olive Garden, but this year you need to break out of the box and get creative. The answer? Name a Houston Toad after him!

Houston Toads are a critically endangered species that, once native to Houston, now reside only in a small portion of Texas west of our city. The Houston Zoo’s conservation department has developed a Houston Toad program with hopes to increase their dwindling population and boost their likelihood of survival in the wild.

When you name a toad after dad, you’re helping support our Houston Toads, plus you’re giving one of the lucky toads a really cool name. Click here for more on the Houston Toad and the Name-A-Toad program.

Now that you’ve got the gift down, we have the perfect way to spend Fathers Day – our TOAD-ally Awesome Fathers Day event taking place on Sunday, June 19 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Reflection Pool. You’ll have a chance to introduce dad to one of those special Houston Toads, and you can partake in some TOADally awesome crafts and activities – all FREE with your Zoo admission!

The Houston Toad - Some names we've gotten so far include Sticky, Lord Mittens, Mongo and Mr.Chuckluck!

Can’t get enough toads in your life? Join us for special Toad Tracker Wild Winks taking place June 30, July 21 and August 13. These are one-of-a-kind overnight experiences where you will get to track toads on the Houston Zoo grounds at night. It could even be a good bonding experience with dad! 🙂  Click here for more details.

Toad trackers measuring a Houston Zoo inhabitant

Houston Toad surveys have begun

Houston Toads

Conservation staff spring surveys have begun for the detection of calling Houston toads (endangered endemic) in Austin and Colorado county.  We currently have 3,000 Houston toads in the quarantine facility at the Zoo. That is more than the entire known population in the wild. We have released close to 30,000 toads, toadlets and late stage tadpoles in the last 3 years of head starting.  To learn more about Houston toads go here .

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