OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – You probably used to see them all the time, but maybe not so much anymore: Texas Horned Lizards.
Tinker Air Force Base and the Oklahoma City Zoo have partnered to learn more about these tiny creatures and prevent them from being lost forever.
In the tall grass on Tinker is where dozens of them live. Their small stature doesn’t make them easy to spot, but thankfully, Raymond Moody, Natural Resource Biologist at Tinker Air Force Base, and Sam Eliades, PhD candidate at OU, have some help: trackers.
“So we have something called harmonic radar diodes that are on our smallest lizards, and they are small pieces of metal with an antenna on the end that we’re able to attach to lizards of any size because they weigh very little,” said Eliades. “Then we have other trackers that are larger that have batteries or even solar powered components on them so that we’re able to use a little more precise technologies to track them down.”
For years, Tinker has been studying the lizards and recently joined up with the Oklahoma City Zoo to learn more about them.
“The Texas Horned Lizard is actually a species of special concern here in Oklahoma,” said Moody. “They’re not actually threatened or endangered right now, but they could be in the future.”
That’s why the zoo started a head start program where they raise the lizard hatchlings at the Lizard Lab at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The hatchlings stay there long enough to get them through their most vulnerable phase. Then, they are placed at Tinker AFB, where they start in pens, then are moved into the open acreage.
“We’re able to continuously locate and monitor the lizards to make sure that they’re still gaining weight, that they’re staying hydrated and that they’re doing well in these short acclimation periods before we ultimately let them go into the entirety of the area that lizards are in here natively,” said Eliades.
The most recent release of the Texas Horned Lizards onto Tinker AFB happened at the beginning of June. The Tinker and the Oklahoma City Zoo team plan to repeat this process again in two years.
“We can see over a number of years how well this population bolstering strategy works, and then there are a number of ongoing studies that have done things, such as monitoring habitat quality or habitat alteration, to see how that may improve or expand the horned lizard populations in the area,” said Eliades.
The Oklahoma City Zoo posts updates about the lizards on their social media platforms and will continue to do so throughout the summer as the Texas Horned Lizards are monitored and tracked throughout the rest of their active period.