Southern Agenda

Comeback Kids

Illustration: Tim Bower

“They look like souped-up toads, but they are actually lizards,” says Diane Barber, the project coordinator of the Texas horned lizard program at the Fort Worth Zoo. The zoo breeds the spiky-headed, short-tailed reptiles, which once roamed the state in abundance but have suffered population hits from habitat loss, invasive fire ants, and pesticide use. Every summer, Barber and her team wait for some four hundred eggs the size of Tic Tacs to hatch so the babies—so small they fit on a human’s pinkie fingernail—can be introduced into Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area a few hours southwest. Once released in the preserve, the lizards grow, with the zoo’s partner in the effort, Texas Christian University (which claims the horned lizard, also known as the horned frog or horny toad, as its mascot), tracking their progress. “We’re figuring out how to establish a population, and in the future, we’ll expand and introduce at other sites,” Barber says. “They’re little tanks, and they are capable of adapting.”