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Oklahoma researchers studying species “in the midst of a silent extinction”

OKLAHOMA CITY – Researchers are teaming up to help save a species that was once thriving in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is partnering with the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma to help save the horny toad.

The horny toad, which is formally known as the Texas horned lizard, was once common across much of the state. However, it has become increasingly rare as its habitat has been lost and fragmented due to urbanization.

“Horny toads in Oklahoma are in the midst of a silent extinction,” Samuel Eliades, a third-year ecology and evolutionary biology Ph.D. student at OU and researcher at the Sam Noble Museum, said. “This was a species so common that – until they started vanishing – no one bothered to study them. We are still playing catch up to try to understand this complex and interesting lizard.”

Researchers hope to establish a program that raises horny toads and releases them back into the wild. Also, Eliades will study their gut bacteria and compare those samples to bacteria from Texas horned lizards in the wild. That analysis will provide a better understanding of how being raised in human care influences animals.

“As a conservation organization, the OKC Zoo is committed to preserving wildlife and wild places,” Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo curator of conservation and science, said. “In addition to the study being done on-site at the Lizard Lab to help Texas horned lizards, Zoo staff regularly volunteer their time in the field assisting our conservation partners with research on wild populations of this species and others.”

This summer, Eliades oversaw the collection of a group of 35 Texas horned lizard eggs from Tinker. Once hatched, they will mature at the zoo before being released into the wild. Researchers will continue to monitor them once they are released back into their native habitats.

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