Dallas Zoo’s reptile keepers recently ended their eighth year studying the life history of Texas horned lizards on the 4,700-acre Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Fisher County, Texas. By collecting lizard life history data, we hope to shed valuable light on the ecology of this threatened native Texan that is now in decline throughout much of its range. Earlier this year, Dallas-area teachers joined us for our first-ever Texas Horned Lizard Teachers Expedition. Teacher Cara Kailukaitis shares her story on ZooHoo!
This summer, I had the pleasure of attending the first-ever Texas Horned Lizard Teachers Expedition offered through the Dallas Zoo. When I saw this on the website, I knew I had to attend. Twenty years ago I
did my high school senior research report on these amazing creatures. Finally being able to study these tough little lizards up close and handle them was very fulfilling.
I have always loved nature and as an informal educator I’ve tried to pass this along to homeschoolers. Working with young children is very rewarding and they often bring a smile to my face. But getting a chance to do actual field work with other professionals and teachers was a great change of pace.
Throughout the expedition weekend, I was able to do transect field studies, examine scat and tracks, and help find and take measurements on the Texas horned lizards. What the schedule failed to mention was
that we would be diving out of four wheelers and grabbing horned lizards as they tried to scurry away. It felt like I was living an episode of The Crocodile Hunter. All that was missing is the guy yelling “crikey!”
While I went to learn about the Texas horned lizard, I also had the opportunity to meet with the interns at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch where the field trip was conducted. They shared a wealth of knowledge about not only the quail but other flora and fauna in the area. Seeing their efforts put the techniques we were learning about, like transect studies, into perspective. Rather than being just an idea in a book, these techniques were brought to life in front of us. Their efforts to protect the quail have the added benefit of helping the lizards, as well.
All fun aside, I want everyone to know how important it is to reconnect with nature and preserve our environment. The ranch is an oasis in the middle of oil rigs and empty cotton fields. With 94-percent of Texas land in private ownership, it is doubly important that such places exist. Without this space, Texas horned lizards, quail, and many other indigenous species would be homeless. While at the ranch I could envision the bison that once roamed across this land and wonder what animals will still be here in 50 years. I would love for everyone to make time for an opportunity like this to see just how interconnected we all are.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity the Dallas Zoo gave me to participate in this event and can’t wait for another field trip! A huge thank you to Colin Johnson with Dallas Zoo Education team; reptile keeper Shana Fredlake; and reptile supervisor Bradley Lawrence for making this trip possible, and the staff at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch for all that you do to help protect this environment for future generations.
*If you’d like to be part of an Educator Workshop, check out all of our upcoming programs.