September 22, 2009

Zoo-raised Houston toads released

Texas wildlife officials have released 360 Houston toads born and raised in the Houston Zoo, hoping they can replenish the wild population.

A total of 140 toads were delivered Monday evening to Bastrop State Park in Bastrop County east of Austin. The rest were released in suitable habitat in Austin County, west of Houston.

At this point, it's triage, Michael Forstner, a Texas State University-San Marcos biologist, told The Austin American-Statesman. The population is still declining.

The Houston toad, named after the city where it was first identified as a separate species, was once common in eastern Texas. But development around Houston has destroyed much of its habitat, and the only remaining toads are believed to be in the zoo.

Bastrop State Park is home to the last known population of wild toads, but researchers believe there are fewer than 300.

The young toads were returned to the pond in the park where their eggs were removed in the spring. They hatched into tadpoles at the zoo, metamorphosed into toads and spent the two months when young toads are most likely to become food for snakes, raccoons and birds there.