Reintroducing the Horned Lizard Into the Hill Country

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Tony Maples Photography


A familiar sight among the landscapes of the Texas Hill Country was the horned lizard. What once was a common place to be found among the wildlife, has in the years past become obsolete. There is a small group within the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) that conducted surveys and experiments in the region to see if the horned lizard could be re-introduced into the Hill Country.

Devin Erxleben is the TPWD wildlife biologist at the McGillivray and Leona McKie Muse Wildlife Management Area, located in Brown County, near the town of Blanket. The Muse is a low-fence Area where Erxleben and others conduct surveys of wildlife, including game species, small mammals, birds, reptiles, and vegetation. This is the area Erxleben and his team chose to see the feasibility and success of re-introducing wild caught Texas horned lizard.

Erxleben stated in an interview that they believe the lizards were pushed out by a variety of factors including lack of fire ants, the pet trade, climate, and pesticides used to kill the fire ants and inadvertently also killing the red ants.

Losing their main source of nourishment has contributed to these lizards demise along with the ever changing habitat and habitat loss shared Devin. Over the years there has been a lot of interest in having the horned lizards re-introduced into the area of the Hill Country. “Due to the popularity of the Prop 11 Wildlife Tax Evaluation more and more ranchers are actually managing for wildlife these days and there’s profit to be made from managing for wildlife. We kind of feel like a lot of the habitat in our region is better now than it may have been 30 years ago and we think a lot of horned lizard habitat has possibly been improved so that it could support them,” shared  Erxleben in an interview.

Devin and fellow biologist Nathan Rains began the experiment to reintroduce the horned lizard into the Hill Country, in the spring of 2014. The video above shows the experiments, evaluations, and process they used to carry out this venture. Fourteen lizards were captured on a private property and released into an enclosure they prepared before letting them lose. After their release, each was fitted with a radio transmitter for staff to track their progress.

There were concerns about predators and the lizards finding plenty of food, but since the experiment, there has been eggs and reproduction occurring after nearly 30 years that is pretty impressive. The program turned out to be a success with impressive data thus allowing for more growth of the program and expansion into other areas. Icons of the southwest, the horned lizard or also known by its scientific name-Phrynosoma which means “toad-body,” are here to stay and delights folks young and old for years to come hopefully.

References: Texas Parks and Wildlife