Texas state reptile’s extinction has been exaggerated

“Nature doesn’t need people – people need nature; nature would survive the extinction of the human being and go on just fine, but human culture, human beings, cannot survive without nature.” — Harrison Ford

It is with great joy that I report news of the horned toad’s extinction has been greatly exaggerated.

Conversation during a coffee conference last week turned to species that are thought to be nearly extinct now because of fire ants. It was duly noted among the majority of the caffeine consumers that the horned toad was one of them, but I’m here to report that might not necessarily be so.

I speak with some degree of affection for the strange tiny creatures by virtue of my dual citizenship. While I attained what is for most people a mature age in the Northeast corner of the Lone Star State, my years preceding the sixth grade were spent in the regions of West Texas in places like, Seymour, Ballinger and even Pampa in the Texas Panhandle. Living West of Fort Worth qualifies one to claim acquaintance with the little critters that were a kid’s companion for playing in the dirt and a means of getting in trouble at school should you get caught with one while harboring intentions of frightening the girls.

Some years ago, while visiting family in West Texas, l took my East-Texas reared kids out to the edge of town in search of the little critters—the edge of town being a relative term. We were in, Kress, a wide spot in the road that is easily missed it if you blink. l know—I did it.

I was certain that we would see multitudes of them, but our search rendered not one single specimen. We looked, we walked, and we searched the sunbaked, cracked dry ground, but we found not one. Dismayed, we inquired back in town and were told by locals that, “they’re extinct — the fire ants killed ‘em out.” I was devastated.

For the uninformed, horned toads resemble nothing less than a miniature, hand-held size dinosaur. Never mind that reference books will tell you they are properly called “Horned Lizards,” you’ll not hear them called a lizard anywhere in the regions of Texas outside of academia.

The same scientific references will tell you the tiny creatures are also known as “horny toads” or “horntoads,” and they are a genus of North American lizards of the family Phrynosomatidae meaning “toad-bodied.” Their flat bodies, about the size of a quarter, sport four little legs that stick straight out. On the opposite end of a tiny piece of a pointed tail is a flat-topped head with reptile looking eyes and spiny little horns giving them a prehistoric look earning them their name.

Recent research has revealed that the Texas reptile is in fact not extinct although their numbers have been in decline since the days when folks my age were youngsters and considered them backyard and playground playmates.

More than twenty years ago, biologists began research projects that included capturing, tagging and releasing some hundreds of horned toads in hopes of gathering data to aid in their preservation. At that time, there was even a Chapter of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society headquartered in Austin. As recent as last fall, the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas zoos, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, Texas Christian University biologists (the only college or university in the world that has the horned frog, as they call it, as its mascot) and others are working together to release hundreds of horned toad hatchlings in a variety of places on state land.

CNN will continue reporting its fake news and Washington will likely always refuse to agree on something, but there is a sense of balance in life as long as there are still horned toads in Texas.

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