U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Horning in: Student interns are hot on the trail!
Six student interns from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) have spent the hot summer months in El Centro’s deserts searching for flat-tailed horned lizards (FTHL). The lizards, often referred to as “horny toads,” are tracked annually to establish population densities and help determine the viability of the species. (text continues below)
Demographic plots located in three separate areas – East Mesa, West Mesa and the Yuha Desert - were each surveyed for 9 consecutive days. Since the survey was conducted through visual observation only, finding them required a trained eye – if the lizards weren’t moving, they were almost impossible to see. The interns became adept at identifying clues to their whereabouts: “hen-scratched” tracks left behind as the lizard foraged for ants; scat; or slightly discernible lumps where the reptiles hid in the sand. Rarely is a flat-tail noticeably waiting to be counted.
Once discovered, the interns measured their weight, their snout-vent length (length minus the tail), identified their gender and inserted a tiny identifying tag in the hopes of finding them again next year. Maybe they will. It was hatchling season in the desert. Young flat-tails not much larger than a house key may call these lizard-trackers home.
Did you know? Flat-tailed horned lizards eat 300 harvester ants each day! This is just one good reason not to try keeping one as a pet -- you’ll never be able to keep up with this appetite.
- Joya Szalwinski, interpretive park ranger, BLM El Centro Field Office, Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, 8/23/11
|Last updated: 08-25-2011|