Houston toad tadpoles released at Bastrop State Park

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov

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A small pond in Bastrop State Park welcomed home 1,500 Houston toad tadpoles that were released Tuesday morning after being raised to maturity in captivity. The endangered toad is surviving in the park, despite last year’s catastrophic wildfire.

In a joint effort from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Houston Zoo, and Texas State University in San Marcos, the tadpoles are getting a better chance at survival after being harvested as egg strands from the same Bastrop pond earlier this year.

The tadpoles, which now have rear legs, are the latest phase of the Houston Toad Headstart Program begun in 2007, a multi-agency initiative designed to increase reproductive success of the Houston toad.  Toads hatched and raised in protected captivity have higher survival rates than those in the wild. This is the first time tadpoles are being released to try to boost the population of the tiny endangered toad.

 In the past, scientists have reintroduced baby “toadlets” on dry ground near breeding ponds. Texas State University’s Dr. Michael Forstner, one of the foremost Houston toad authorities, has found through recent research that releasing advanced tadpoles results in at least as many surviving adults as is achieved by releasing toadlets.

Federally protected since 1972, the Houston toad once ranged over 14 counties, but loss of habitat has constricted that area to mostly Bastrop County. Historic drought and the 2011 wildfire have had a detrimental effect on the toad and its habitat, but surprisingly, researchers documented more toads than expected during the 2013 Houston toad breeding season.  At least 17 successful egg-laying events occurred within the park earlier this spring, and 6 of those were harvested for “enrollment” in the Headstart Program.

However, the resilient toads will face a variety of post-wildfire challenges in their fragmented and dispersed habitat. Toadlets will emerge from the water into a landscape dramatically transformed by the wildfire, and one that is rapidly changing with each subsequent growing season.