Spot-tailed earless lizard.
Spot-tailed earless lizard
Learn more about the spot-tailed earless lizard
-Mike Duran, vertebrate zoologist for The Nature Conservancy of Texas.
Mike Duran, a Nature Conservancy vertebrate zoologist, knows that when it comes to wildlife surveys in a state as big as Texas, there’s only so much one man can do.
And when the animal he’s after is as small, elusive and rare as the spot-tailed earless lizard, even employing the Conservancy’s entire Texas conservation and science teams as trackers won’t make much of a difference.
So Duran and his partners are turning to the general public, hoping amateur naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts might provide information that could help answer questions about what has happened to a lizard once common throughout much of Texas.
Once believed to reside widely in Texas within a rough circle outlined by Pecos, San Angelo, Austin, Corpus Christi and Laredo, the spot-tailed earless lizard, (scientific name Holbrookia lacerata), is today rarely seen.
In seven years of conservation work, Duran has yet to come across one, and some experts, such as Ralph Axtell, a professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, believe it may be entirely gone from much of its traditional habitat.
For a conservationist, the loss of any species is cause for alarm.
“When you have a species disappearing from its historic range, it’s indicative of something going on with the environment,” says Duran.
“In this case, we’re guessing that it’s pesticide use. If pesticide use is so devastating that it’s wiping out an entire species, that’s something we need to take a closer look at.”
While the species is not officially listed as threatened or endangered, there has been concern among scientists for the status of the reptile for some time — and its demise could underscore important environmental changes.
Along with a team of herpetologists — including Axtell, Toby Hibbitts at Texas A&M University, Travis LaDuc at the University of Texas-Austin, Kelly McCoy at Angelo State University and Michael Forstner at Texas State University — and a cadre of volunteers — Duran plans to survey 207 sites within the lizard’s historic range to form a rough estimate of remaining wild populations.
The scientists are seeking volunteers willing to search for the lizard at specific locations, and would like to hear from anyone who thinks they have seen one either alive or dead.
“It all starts with gaining more knowledge, the basic building blocks of science,” Duran says. “Right now, we just don’t know where the spot-tailed earless lizard is and where it has probably been extirpated. That’s what we have to start with.”
Once more information about the status and range of the lizard has been gathered, Duran and others will begin the important process of designing a conservation strategy to protect remaining populations.
The spot-tailed earless lizard is about 6 inches long and is covered with spots on its back and tail. It is so named because, unlike similar lizards, it also has spots underneath its tail. It is called “earless” because it has no external ear openings.
Habitat for the lizard is believed to be areas that are sparsely vegetated with some bare ground. It is found on a variety of soil types, though never on pure sand. Typical environs include upland savannas, plowed fields in places that originally were grasslands, thinly vegetated mesquite shrublands, semi-xeric mesquite and prickly pear brushlands, and coastal prairie.
Anyone who believes he or she has seen a spot-tailed earless lizard is asked to contact Mike Duran at (361) 249-1712, (361) 882-3584, ext. 105, or email@example.com; or Ralph Axtell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Duran also makes the point that he would be happy to hear from those who searched for the lizard in its historic habitat and did not see it.
Clay Carrington is a conservation writer for The Nature Conservancy of Texas.January 18, 2012