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Annual Horned Lizard Contest Starts Again
AUSTIN, Texas — Horned lizards in my hometown? Where!?!-this is the very question that Kimberly Robinson and K.J. Parker, along with other curious and creative students have been investigating for the TPWD Hometown Horned Toad Essay Contest. Across the state, students have been interviewing family, friends and other local residents and digging deep into local records to find stories, memories and facts about horned lizards in their hometowns.
Kimberly Robinson from Krum had seen horned lizards during a family vacation in Oklahoma. After reading the story in her local paper about the Hometown Horned Toad Essay Contest, she decided to enter and investigate what had happened to the horned lizards in Krum. After interviewing local residents in person, she put out survey boxes and a survey in the newspaper to gather more stories and information. Replies poured in as people responded with answers and horned lizard stories from their youth.
Since Kimberly won the essay contest, her interest in horned lizards has continued to grow. When asked what she planned on doing next, she said she was going to look for more horned toads. She also plans to send her essay to the governor so that more things can be done to help save these unique reptiles.
Hundreds of essays have been turned in over the past four years from across the state, each one holding different possible reasons for the Texas horned lizard's reduction in numbers. The majority of the essays suggest 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.
Texas residents hold valuable information that can aide in helping the species to recover. People's memories are in some cases the only record of horned lizards in the area. This essay contest captures this information and helps TPWD biologists to better understand the population decline trends and changes in the lizard's habitat and may help to create better conservation methods.
The essays were judged according to age group and thoroughness of investigation, number of interviews, number of written sources, and quality of presentation, including historical perspective, scientific analysis, neatness and creativity. Volunteers from TPWD's Wildlife Diversity Branch and County Historical Commissions judged submitted essays. Individual winners received prize packs that will help them with further reptile and amphibian field studies including items such as digital cameras, field guides, binoculars, and walkie-talkies, while team winners received a field trip to a TPWD Wildlife Management Area.
2005 winners in other age categoriesincluded:
Grades 3-5 Individual:
- 1st place — Kimberly Robinson — Blanch Dodd Intermediate, Krum
- 2nd place — Zachary Roberts — homeschool, San Antonio
- 3rd place — Logan Glenn — McCamey Primary, McCamey
Grades 3-5 Team:
- Erika, Jordan, Graham, Clayton, Alan and David — Ambleside School, Fredericksburg
Grades 6-8 Individual:
- 1st place — K.J. Parker — homeschool, Waco
Grades 6-8 Team
- Sally Platt, Annabeth Mohon, and Sara Pennington-Ambleside School, Fredericksburg
Grades 9-12 Team
- Advanced Wildlife Class Childress High School
The idea behind the essay contest is to get young minds interested in science and exploring the world around them, while also helping to raise awareness about horned toads. Clint Groom, a fourth grade teacher at Hidden Lakes Elementary, used the essay contest as a writing lesson. He said, "This lesson is much more exciting than a regular writing lesson. Although every one of my kids didn't meet enough requirements to send in their essay, they all did one. They really loved learning about these 'little dinosaurs.' They were able to speak to their parents, or relatives about them. To this day, I get at least one comment a day about Horned Frogs."
The Hometown Horn Toad Essay contest is an extension of a program called Texas Horned Lizard Watch. This citizen volunteer monitoring program has been gathering scientific data about the status of this popular state reptile for TPWD. The data gathered has been useful in identifying habitat and distribution through out the state. For more information about how to join Texas Horned Lizard Watch for the 2005 monitoring season, visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hornytoads/ or call (800)792-1112 x7011.
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