There are multiple animal exhibits in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. One of them is home to two Houston Toads: Tina Toad and her friend, Mr. Toad.
The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species. Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas. The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.
The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time
Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release. Part of the Houston Toad specialist’s job is to count the eggs in each egg strand!
Look at the pictures in this post. What you are seeing is a picture of one of Tina the Houston Toad’s egg strands. The version with the white dots is an example of how the eggs are counted and marked as they go through the photo of the egg strand.
We recently had a contest in the Swap Shop to guess how many eggs were in the strand. The total in the strand, according to the toad keepers, was 8,533. Our closest guess was from Isabel S. who guessed 8,600. For her expertise in counting toad eggs, she received 100 points to spend in the Swap Shop!
Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
Some of the most amazing things about Texas are all of the fabulous native wildlife species. Texas has a long and rich natural history – from the Horned Lizard, to the Nine Banded Armadillo, to the state flying mammal, the Mexican Free-tailed Bat. But, some of our native species are in jeopardy.
Meet Tina Toad. She is one of the Houston Zoo’s ambassador animals and is a retired Houston Toad that was a part of the Zoo’s breeding program. After laying over 10,000 eggs (yes, Moms, I said 10,000), she was retired and came to live in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. Recently, we were able to get a picture of her with another kind of Texan. Kurtis Drummond, safety with the Houston Texans, came by along with Bethany and Brianna from the Houston Texans Cheerleaders.
The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species. Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas. The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County. Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the most serious threats facing the Houston Toad. Red fire ants can also have a devastating impact by killing young toads and altering local insect and arthropod populations which the toads feed on.
Their habitat is associated with deep sandy soils within the Post Oak Savannah of east central Texas. The toads burrow into the sand for protection from cold weather in winter and hot dry conditions in the summer.
Breeding season peaks in March and April. Large numbers of eggs are produced; however, each egg has less than one percent probability of survival. Eggs hatch within seven days and tadpoles turn into tiny toads in as little as fifteen days.
The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release. Approximately 1,950 Houston toad tadpoles were transferred from the Houston Zoo to Texas State University for release into native habitat as of January 2015. The zoo also has established a collaborative, conservation-based Houston Toad research project with local universities including Rice University and the University of Saint Thomas.
To meet Tina the Houston Toad, come by the Naturally Wild Swap Shop between 9AM and 5PM any day the Zoo is open.
Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here to find out more.
Endangered Species Day is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species as well as everyday actions they can take to help protect them. The Houston Zoo, and other AZA-accredited institutions around the world, have united to bring awareness to the global conservation effort to save endangered species and their habitats in the wild.
What makes a species endangered? According to the International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN)
An Endangered species is a species which has been categorized by the IUCN Red List as likely to become extinct. “Endangered” is the second most severe conservation status for wild populations in the IUCN’s schema after Critically Endangered.
We have a number of endangered species at the Houston Zoo and some of them might be your favorite animals! Did you know Asian elephants, orangutans, and gorillas are all endangered? The Zoo’s Conservation team works with 30 conservation partners in 16 different countries to help these animals and others including the Grevy’s zebra, shark and ray species, cheetahs, and more! Global partners use our conservation resources for funding, business development, and even event planning to connect their local cultures to the animals they’re trying to save.
In addition to our global conservation efforts, the Houston Zoo works diligently to help three local species and increase their chances of long-term survival.
Local conservation projects happen behind-the-scenes at the Houston Zoo where dedicated keepers work with these animals daily to increase their numbers in the wild. One such animal is the Attwater’s prairie chicken. This dynamic bird used to call the plains of Texas home, but now only about 100 exist in the wild. The good news is, 362 eggs are currently being incubated to raise and release back into the wild thanks to the amazing bird department here at the Zoo!
A mature, male Attwater’s prairie chicken at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.
The juvenile birds are released at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge to grow to maturity and repopulate the area. Last year 176 chickens were released!
Similarly, the Houston toad is no longer in Houston, but its numbers are growing thanks to the work of the Herpetology department and volunteers at the Zoo. The Herpetology department at the Houston Zoo currently has 700,000 eggs ready to be released in the Bastrop area. In 2015 they released 600,000 eggs in cases that protect the fragile eggs until they become tadpoles.
So far, 2016 has been a successful year thanks to those 600,000 eggs. In past years, mating calls of Houston Toads have been scarce, but were more prominent this year. A very good sign for long-term sustainability!
Finally, the Zoo partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help save sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Our veterinarians provided medical care for 124 turtles in 2015 and 17 in 2016 to-date.
A common green sea turtle rehabs in the Houston Zoo Kipp Aquarium.
All five species of sea turtle – Kemp’s ridley, green, loggerhead, leatherback, and hawksbill – found in the Gulf are endangered.
What can you do to help?
Attwater’s prairie chicken
Come to the Zoo! Each time you visit, a portion of your ticket goes towards our conservation programs – including the Attwater’s prairie chicken!
Recycle your old batteries. Batteries leak harmful chemicals into waterways when they aren’t disposed of properly. Since amphibians, like the Houston toad, have sensitive skin that absorbs the environment around them, recycling batteries will help keep them healthy!
Use a reusable bag when you go shopping. Single-use plastic bags are often confused by sea turtles as sea jellies – one of their favorite foods! Using a reusable bag when you go to the store will keep these single-use bags out of the environment and keep sea turtles out of harm’s way.
Want to know more about what you can do to help save animals in the wild? TAKE ACTION
Save water, save money, and save wildlife at the Houston Zoo on May 21st! The Zoo is partnering with the Galveston Bay Foundation to hold a rain barrel workshop from 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. at the Zoo’s Brown Education Center. Your workshop registration includes 1 rain barrel and 1 kit, at a low price of $35! Interested participants can sign up by here.
Rain barrels are a great addition to your home-they can help reduce your water bill by capturing rain water that you can reuse for your lawn and plants all-year long. Reusing rain water helps ensure there is enough water in the future for wildlife (like Houston toads) and people.
The Houston Zoo has several rain barrels to help ensure we reuse water. If you have been to our produce garden in the Children’s Zoo, you may have seen one of our rain barrels.
In addition to the rain barrel in the Children’s Zoo, we have 2 rain barrels behind-the-scenes. One is located at our commissary-where all of the diets are prepared daily for our animals. It is located next to another produce garden and collects water to be reused on a variety of plants. Finally, we have a very large, 5,000 gallon rain barrel by our rhino barn. In 2015, this rain barrel alone collected and used nearly 35,000 gallons of water! In Texas, that is the equivalent (by 2013 data) of 1 above-average Texas household’s annual water needs.
You can take action and reuse water in your own backyard by participating in our rain barrel workshop at the Zoo on May 21st from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Reusing rain water is a simple action to take that not only helps wildlife, but helps you to save on your water bill! After our workshop, participants will have a chance to paint their rain barrels and enter it into an art contest! Check out some of the decorated rain barrels from previous workshops (photos courtesy of Galveston Bay Foundation rain barrel workshop participants):
The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with the environment and wildlife in mind. If you have a surplus of used batteries, be them alkaline or rechargeable, you can take them to your local recycling center to ensure that the remaining chemicals and substances don’t harshly affect the wildlife that’s directly outside your doors!
Any battery that is disposed of in a landfill (like if you toss them in your normal trash), or that finds its way into the environment, has the potential to leak its old chemicals into the soils and waters that wildlife like amphibians call home.
Because amphibians like frogs, toads, even salamanders, have skin that can easily absorb liquids found in damp soils or the waters and streams they frequent, they can get sick from things like leaking batteries. Often, harsh or foreign chemical interactions can affect populations long-term by changing the behavior of animals, affecting female or male reproductive abilities or even influencing the development of eggs.
The Zoo works to help our local amphibians by recycling our alkaline and rechargeable batteries with a company that specializes in battery disposal. You can do the same by finding your local recycling center; if you’re in Houston you can go to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center and they will take most options besides alkaline. You can also recycle more than the typical AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – items like power tools, cars, small electronics like tablets or smart phones, hearing aids, watches, and all manner of things take a variety of batteries.
By using rechargeable batteries you can also ensure that the materials that were mined to make your batteries last for a much longer time period than with single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will go dull over time, but you can get multiple uses out of them and lessen the stress on the environment by finding products and items that you can use over and over before recycling!
How Our Staff Recycles Batteries at the Zoo
On Zoo grounds we will often offer recycling information that you can see when you visit. We recommend you take your batteries to a local recycling center to ensure they don’t end up in landfills that can encroach on the space of wildlife as well as affect the soils and waters amphibians and other animals call home.
Behind the scenes, our staff utilize a special battery drop-off for spent batteries. By encouraging staff to recycle these items the Zoo is able to see how many batteries we use as an organization, and how many we use that are rechargeable! Alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, so taking a look at our staff battery needs shows us where we could potentially get more rechargeable batteries rather than single-use alkaline batteries. We can also weigh our battery recycling over time and see how much space we have saved in landfills and how many batteries have been prevented from harshly affecting our wildlife habitats.
Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling
Alkaline: these are more often the common batteries like AA, AAA, C, or D as well as 9-Volt. Do not store any of these batteries together without packaging. Once they have been used there is still potential for them to ‘pop’ open as there are residual chemicals that can be discharged and react with other batteries they are near. This could cause injury if someone is nearby. The 9-Volt batteries are commonly used in your fire alarms and are properly prepared for the recycling center by putting duct-tape over the positive and negative transistors (basically, the top two prongs need to be covered so they don’t come into contact with other batteries). Note that some centers do not accept alkaline batteries for recycling.
Rechargeable: these batteries are widely used in items like power-tools, phone batteries, laptop batteries, or even your more common AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-Volt options. There are no alkaline battery options that cannot be replaced with rechargeable options. You will find rechargeable batteries in forms of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Lithium-ion (Li-ion), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). All of these batteries have the potential to get hot and should be packaged separately from each other in preparation for recycling; Li-ion should be particularly tended to in ensuring there is no other metal or battery contact once discharged.
The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Gilbert Sabinga is in the United States as participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog!
Houston Zoo is the nature in it’s wildest. Every day coming to the zoo it offers me a new chance to get up close from wildlife around the world, and learn close facts about the animals. This time I was introduced to toads!!!! The little I knew about the toads is valuable part of our outdoor heritage. Most of people probably don’t give them much thought, and rarely credit what we consider lesser life not with emotions big as ours; but we need these amphibians to control destructive insects and to offer their voices to the sounds of spring and summer nights. Just hearing or seeing them adds to our enjoyment of outdoor joy and makes our environment beautiful. I visited and got to help in the toad department under the instruction of Tyler Parker, who never get tired of me asking questions about toads. He really taught me much on toads and expanded my knowledge about the toads especially Houston toads.
Today, with species threatened and habitats disappearing worldwide, the Houston Zoo is playing a new role in conservation: the Zoo is expanding their efforts far beyond keeping animals alive in captivity. An example of this is the toad quarantine facility that serves as a location for captive breeding and head- starting of Houston toads eggs stand for release in to the wild, and this facility is managed full-time by Houston toad specialists who care for the toads and work closely. I never thought of how great this is wow! Credit to toad keepers.
The best part is that we would all love to think that wild animals in reality are at least a little bit like they are in National Geographic movies – cute, cuddly and happy to be in human company. Certainly toads can get used to human caretakers. Dr. Lauren Howard held one told and I was surprised that the toad did not struggle and even closed its eyes! I was wondering is it love? Or, the warmth of Lauren’s hand, or cues from the toad that it enjoys the care. We all need to care for these magnificent local Texas creatures.
Amphibian species are now on the verge of extinction. How do we save them?
– Toads like to take their time crossing the road…give them a brake! Roadkill is a significant cause of toad and frog mortality in many parts of the world. So drive slower on wet nights. Help a frog or toad cross the road (careful: don’t cause an accident or get squashed yourself).
– If you are building a pond, and want to support a healthy toad community, do not stock fish in it–even native species. Fishless ponds always tend to have a higher amphibian biodiversity than do ponds with fish.
– Most of the products we use in our daily life, and even the things we take for granted (food, water, electricity) have been removed from their natural place in the environment. We therefore offer the following suggestions on how you can reduce your ecological footprint: Turn off your air conditioning when it’s not in use. Take a shorter shower. Put a lid on that pot of boiling water. Turn off your lights. Print on both sides of the sheet of paper. Turn your jacuzzi off when it’s not in use. Going for a picnic? Don’t use styrofoam plates; most supermarkets sell biodegradable corn plates.
For more information visit; firstname.lastname@example.org
Point to remember; Toads may be begging for their environmental freedom!!!
Some people call a group of tadpoles a “knot,” while others call them a “cloud,” or a “school.” We’ve been contemplating this same question here at the Houston toad program, wondering what to call the army (hey, that works!) of Houston toad tadpoles that will emerge from all of the eggs we have released into the wild. To date, the Houston Zoo’s Houston toad program has produced and released around 144,500 of eggs for release into Austin and Bastrop Counties! With less than 300 wild Houston toads remaining in Texas, we hope that this huge release of eggs will help to bolster the wild population and keep this irreplaceable amphibian off the extinction list.
In my last post I mentioned a cool contraption that our partners at Texas State University devised to keep our toad eggs safe while they develop into tadpoles. These predator excluder devices (or simply, egg cages) are placed around the egg strands to keep a host of predators out; including aquatic invertebrates, fish, birds, and even other amphibians. So are these egg cages working? Are our egg strands surviving outside the safety of the zoo in wild ponds?
The answer is yes! Every strand that has been released has successfully hatched and thousands of Houston toad tadpoles are being observed at all of the release sites. Our tadpoles are of course not the only amphibian tadpoles in the ponds, so how do we know that the ones we are seeing are in fact Houston toads? The tadpoles of many species of amphibians actually look very different from one another in both size and coloration. The Houston toad tadpole is typically very dark colored (black in fact), and they prefer to stay in shallow areas near the bottom (unlike the somewhat similar looking Spadefoot toad tadpoles that swim up and down in the water column).
TSU researchers have observed very large Houston toad tadpoles hanging around the egg cages, which mean that they are surviving. This large knot (or cloud, or school, or army) of tadpoles is rivaling the numbers that were observed back in the 1960’s before the number of Houston toads started to precipitously decline.
We are now anxiously awaiting the emergence of thousands of tiny Houston toad metamorphs from the water (surely, this should be called an “army!”) This will be the last time we see our toad babies before they disappear into the surrounding woodlands, and with any luck many of them will return to the ponds to breed early next spring. Everyone wish this army of tiny toads the best of luck – they are the future of their species!
While many of us are enjoying these cool, winter evenings indoors in front of the TV with our favorite snack, Houston toad researchers are bundling up, grabbing a thermos of coffee and hitting the road to find the elusive Houston toad! After the first heavy rain of the year, often near the end of January, Houston toads are hitting the ponds to look for mates. The Houston toad spends the majority of the year in shallow burrows to escape the extreme Texas temperatures (a process called estivation); therefore the best opportunity to find and count toads is during their breeding season when they are out and about.
Though some toad biologists slip on a pair of rubber boots and put on a headlamp to look for Houston toads using sight, most researchers search for toads using sound. Sound? How does that work? The Houston toad males have a very distinctive advertisement call, which is the call that they use to tell female toads “Hey, lady! Check me out! I’m over here!” In fact, all species of frogs and toads have a distinctive call that they use to get the attention of the opposite sex. Interestingly, it is not just the males that do the calling. In some species, including another local frog species called the gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor), the females will both call and counter-call (which means to call back) to the males. To hear a Houston toad call, check out the following link: http://www.californiaherps.com/noncal/misc/miscfrogs/pages/a.houstonensis.sounds.html
To find calling toads, researchers set out in their cars after dark to literally “listen” for Houston toads. The areas that are visited have been previously identified as suitable habitat for the Houston toad, or are locations where Houston toads were either found or heard in the past. The surveys follow a very systematic pattern with dozens of stops, and they often take hours to complete. This year, for the first time in several years, five Houston toad counties are being surveyed at once lead by research teams from Texas State University and USFWS. Fingers crossed that we’re going to find some wild toads!
Another way that researchers find wild Houston toads is through the use of a recording device called a SongMeter. A SongMeter is specifically designed to detect the auditory calls of wild animals. To detect Houston toads, SongMeters are placed in trees near ponds and are programmed to record sounds during the course of the night. These devices can record two weeks’ worth of sound data! A software program is then used to find the particular waveform that correlates to the Houston toad call. Of course, every Houston toad “hit” found by the software program has to be verified by human ears, which requires hours of listening time.
So over the next couple of months while you’re enjoying your favorite evening TV show, take a moment to think about the field researchers braving the chilly, wet Texas nights on the hunt for the Houston toad. Each toad found (or heard) tells us more about the health of the wild population and gives us another critical piece of information concerning the natural history of this rare species. Good luck toad folks and Godspeed!
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!
The Houston area has been very fortunate so far this summer to have had rain. Not only is the rain keeping our outdoor plants and trees alive, it has also increased the activity of many nocturnal critters, especially amphibians! After a good rain, we get lots of emails here at the zoo from people wondering what sort of frogs and toads they are spotting around the places they live. In this post we will discuss the three, most common amphibians that you have seen (or heard) around your house or apartment in Houston!
1) Gulf Coast toad (Inciliusnebulifer) – This toad is the most common amphibian found in everyone’s backyards, school play grounds, bayou easements, and parks. These hardy little critters can live almost anywhere as long as there is some access to water. Ever find a toad sitting in your dog’s outdoor water bowl? It is most likely a Gulf Coast toad. Because they have a somewhat similar appearance (thickened, warty skin that is dark brown, tan, and green in appearance) many people mistake Gulf Coast toads for Houston toads; however, Houston toads haven’t been found in Houston for more than 20 years. To learn more about the differences between a Gulf Coast toad and a Houston toad, please check out this video.
2) Rio Grande Chirping frog (Syrrhophuscystignathoides) – Have you ever been outside at night and heard what you though sounded like a bird chirping in the bushes? What you heard is not a bird at all, but a tiny little frog! The Rio Grande Chirping frog is a little over an inch long and often brown or yellowish green in color. Because they are so small they are often very difficult to spot at night hiding in the bushes, plants pots, or in leaf litter. Though they are originally from northern Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, these little frogs are increasing their range due to the transport of pots and plants from these more southern areas!
3) Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea) – The Green Tree Frog can be commonly heard in neighborhoods and parks around Houston that have both trees and water. Good places to listen for these frogs in the evening are Terry Hershey Park, the arboretum at Memorial Park, as well as Herman Park and the Houston Zoo. These very green frogs (hence the name) are around 2.5 inches long and have a white stripe down the sides of their body. These frogs sound like a duck when they call at night and many people mistakenly think that they are hearing waterfowl roosting in trees!
To learn more about how to tell the difference between the different toads in our area, please visit the Houston Zoo’s “Know your Toad” page.
Think you’ve heard one of the above amphibians call? Check out the following pages to double-check!
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