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News.bytes Extra, issue 495

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)

a wide-bodied bumpy lizard lies in the sand
A flat-tailed horned lizard.  Photo: BLM

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.

students lie on the sand to peer under a desert shrub
Interns search for lizards in the shade of a creosote bush. Photo: BLM

a patch of large-grained sand with objects amid dips and peaks
Considered “cryptic” for their vanishing ability, flat-tails are incredibly hard to find.  Can you find the lizard in this picture? Photo: BLM

interns wearing sun hats look closely at a tiny lizard
An Intern inserts a permanent tag so the lizard can be identified and studied from year to year.  Individual growth and survival data are used to estimate population size and viability.  Photo: BLM/Kevin Alison

- Joya  Szalwinski, interpretive park ranger, BLM El Centro Field Office, Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, 8/23/11

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 495 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page. 

Last updated: 08-25-2011