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Youth Essay Contest Again Seeks Horned Toad Memories
AUSTIN, Texas — What one species can bring the old and young together, evoke sympathy and superstition, illustrate changing ecologies and economies, and teach lessons in biology, social studies, history, and composition? The answer is Texas’ official state reptile, the Texas Horned Lizard. For another year, Texas’ most beloved lizard is the focus of an essay contest called Hometown Horned Toads.
Few species evoke as many fond memories as the Texas Horned Lizard. When Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began asking students, "What has happened to horned lizards in your town?" three years ago, the answers and remembrances began pouring in from older Texans, while younger Texans began to gain new appreciation for the once-common species.
"The first three years of the Hometown Horned Toads essay contest have provided some wonderful insights and have given students a great opportunity to get to know this species and learn new research techniques," notes Lee Ann Linam, Texas Horned Lizard Watch coordinator with TPWD. "However, we would still like to hear from many other parts of the state."
The first three years of the essay contest attracted more than 400 entries from around the state. Students used interviews with local residents and researched local records to hypothesize when and why the popular Texas horned lizard declined in their communities. The majority of the essays suggested that the official state reptile began declining in the 1970s and 1980s with red imported fire ants, urbanization, and pesticide use suggested as the major causes of decline.
With winning essays from Texarkana to Big Bend and Childress to Corpus Christi, winners have represented both urban and rural communities from all over the state.
The 2004-05 contest is open to Texas students in three age groups with the authors of the top three essays in each division receiving outdoor fun kits valued as much as $150. The top ten essays in each age group will also receive a horned lizard souvenir. The best classroom or group effort in each age group will win as much as $1,000 to cover expenses for a field trip to a TPWD Wildlife Management Area and a horned lizard souvenir for their classroom.
Prizes will be awarded based on a combination of criteria, including thoroughness of investigation, number of people interviewed, number of local written sources accessed, and quality of presentation, including historical perspective, scientific analysis, neatness and creativity.
Students should conduct interviews of local residents who have interesting memories of horned lizards and research local historical reports, such as newspaper articles, crop records and aerial photographs that might shed light into the history and ecology of the horned lizard. In counties where Texas horned lizards have declined, the overall goal should be to document when and perhaps why horned toads disappeared.
Contest entries in grades 3-5 should submit a 2-3-page paper. Grades 6-8 should submit a typed 3-6-page paper and grades 9-12 should submit a typed 5-8-page paper. Deadline for submission is Jan. 15. Submissions will be judged by participating organizations, including TPWD’s Wildlife Diversity Program, the Texas Historical Commission, County Historical Commissions, and the Horned Lizard Conservation Society. Winners will be announced and prizes awarded by April 1.
Linam said TPWD values the insight that the essays can provide. In return, past participants have applauded the opportunity that the contest gives to students to connect to older members of the community. Said one mother of a participant, "It was a great conversation starter for our holiday gatherings-it really brought everyone together."
For more information about Hometown Horned Toads essay contest or to receive an entry form and set of participant guidelines, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/htht/) or call (800) 792-1112 x7011.
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