Sadly, one no longer hears Houston toads keeping it trill with their distinct high-pitched, vibratory vocals in the city that shares their name. First identified in Houston in 1953, prolonged drought and Houston’s sprawling expansion during the 1960s wiped out our local hometown heroes. By the 1970s, they were locally extinct in Houston and neighboring areas. As the first amphibian placed on the Endangered Species List, these forest-dwelling amphibians are fighting for survival elsewhere in Texas where extended drought and wildfire (which are intensified by climate change) and habitat loss continue to decimate populations that need the right mix of forest, sandy soil, and ponds to thrive. The 2011 Bastrop wildfire dealt a serious blow to the largest known population of Houston toads living in the Lost Pines Forest, a small, ancient forest of loblolly pines. It is estimated that only 213 Houston Toads remain in the Lost Pines regions, with even smaller populations spread out over nine counties. Despite the Houston Zoo’s captive breeding and release program, the future of the Houston toad remains precariously uncertain.
Art by Sarah Welch