Where Have All the Horny Toads Gone?

Where Have All the Horny Toads Gone?

When I was a child my family lived in Orcutt, Ca. on South Bradley Road from 1972 through 1978. There was dry, sandy soil in our backyard, perfect for growing strawberries with a little water and compost. My dad and I hoed up the largest part of the backyard and mounded up long dirt hills then put pvc in the ground for drip irrigation between the rows. The berry plants were planted on top of the rows and it was my job to weed, water and eat the first and best berries that ripened; a job I relished and did without being asked. I often found little “horny toads” while out in the berry patch which I would pick up and stroke until their eyelids closed then I let them go back to patrolling my berry patch for insects.

My little “horny toads” have long since become nearly extinct. I found out that these toads are actually a type of lizard that lives on a diet of mainly ants; specifically native ants.  What happened to this lizard happened first to the ants. Pesticides became a regular part of human existence with suburbanization, people having an abhorrence to insects and unawareness of pesticides’ effects in our ecosystem. The ants were first killed with pesticides and ant baits then the lizards began to disappear without their normal food source available. These lizards still exist mainly in undeveloped areas.

I miss my little “horny toads.”  I remember them with great fondness along with the many hours I spent in the sunshine, eating my strawberries with dirty hands while I pulled weeds and watered the rows. ”While habitat loss is often considered the leading reason for the decline of threatened species, the mechanisms responsible for their decline are often unknown,” says Andrew V. Suarez, who conducted the research on both studies while a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. These two studies are relatively unique in that we were able to identify a causal agent contributing to the decline of horned lizards—an invasive ant species. Essentially, the impacts of Argentine ants in California starts with the displacement of native ants and then cascades throughout the ecosystem.”

Excerpt from: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/science/mclizard.htm

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