Frogs need water in which to lay their eggs and as a place for tadpoles to live as they develop into adults. In a drought many creeks, rivers and wetlands dry up, and some species may not breed during the driest months.
Aleyda Galan is the toad keeper at the Houston Zoo.
“Houston toads are very specific on what type of soil they need. They need sandy soils, and we’re just trying to mimic it as best as we can, as they would find in the wild.”
But the extreme dry weather has resulted in dropping toad birth rates. Galan says with the help of college interns, they’re building breeding habitats intended to increase the population of the amphibians critical to Houston ecology.
“We’ve looked up multiple scientific articles on how its been done on similar species, and in particular the American toad. They’re closely related, so we’re just following their guidelines and just tweaking to where it’s best for the Houston toad.”
Chance Sanford is director of education for the Houston Zoo. He says this is a critical time for toads.
“It is, it’s a true crisis right now and it is. There’s not better way to show conservation than to actually physically do it, and to actually be making a difference. So, the work that the interns are doing right now is gonna pay off and it’s gonna make a difference for the world to come. If they weren’t doing what they were doing, if they weren’t helping out then the species may be in peril and we’d jeopardize losing the Houston toad.”
The interns are helping to build outdoor exposures, where the toads will be moved from a quarantine lab. Hayley Harrison is a conservation biologist at Texas A&M. She says they’re creating a wetter climate for them.
“We wanna teach them how to hibernate by themselves, cause now above ground. They’re just sitting in water, and usually they’re supposed to live underground. So, by giving them that moisture and that sandy loam, we’re able to like re-create a natural process that they usually have in the wild.”
It is hoped that in the new environment the toads’ instincts will kick in, and pass the summer in an inactive or resting state. Zoo president and CEO Deborah Cannon says they’ve done this process before.
“We’ve been doing it for three, with three out of the last four years. One of those years was dry and we couldn’t collect any egg strands. So, this is our fourth year really, and last year we released 35-thousand toads.”
Interns are paid at the zoo through the Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by Exxon Mobil. It trains college students to conserve animal species.