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Media Contact: Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701, steve.lightfoot@tpwd.texas.gov [SL]

TPWD Website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us

TPWD News Release — Oct. 31, 2005

Students Research Local Horned Lizards for Essay Contest

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is encouraging students to take part in the Hometown Horned Lizard historical essay contest. The writing contest is designed to engage children in learning about and promoting conservation of the Texas state reptile.

Many Texans can recount fond memories of the official state reptile, which is not actually a toad. People have always loved telling stories about their beloved horny lizards but they have become increasingly rare during the last 30 years. The goal of Hometown Horned Lizards is for students to explore the past and present abundance of Texas horned lizards, habitats used by Texas horned lizards, changes in habitat over time and unusual experiences people have had with horned lizards.

For the fifth year, TPWD is asking young people to research horned lizards in their community using public records and firsthand accounts from residents and then write an essay. Kids have kept them in shoeboxes on the back porch, stuffing them full of big red ants. They’ve traveled across the country by the hundreds to Boy Scout jamborees. One particularly famous horned lizard reportedly spent three decades in the cornerstone of the Eastland County Courthouse.

TPWD biologists see the contest as a unique opportunity to glean additional information about the horned lizard for possible inclusion in their research projects. In counties where Texas horned lizards have declined, researchers are looking for localized documentation as to when and perhaps why horny toads disappeared. Of particular interest to biologists are essays from the eastern part of the state, where horned lizards have nearly disappeared, but that should not deter young journalists from reporting on horned lizard history in their hometowns elsewhere across the state.

The recollections of Texas residents may provide the key to helping the species recover, according to Lee Ann Linam, coordinator of TPWD’s Texas Horned Lizard Watch. “We believe that people’s memories are a valuable collection of knowledge about this popular species. We have already seen that this essay contest can help to capture that knowledge before it is lost forever. These viewpoints may help us to develop better conservation approaches.”

Students will compete in three age groups: grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Deadline for submission is Feb. 1, 2006. Submissions will be judged by participating organizations, including TPWD, Texas Historical Commission and the Horned Lizard Conservation Society. Prizes will be awarded based on a combination of criteria, including thoroughness of research, number of people interviewed, number of local written sources accessed, and quality of presentation in terms of historical perspective, scientific analysis, neatness and creativity. Winners will be announced and prizes awarded by April 1, 2006.

Three individual winners in each age group will receive an outdoor adventure kit, including such items as GPS units, digital cameras, binoculars, or backpacks. The top team in each category will earn up to $1,000 for a field trip to a TPWD Wildlife Management Area.

The essay contest also offers personal rewards to its participants, says Linam. “For older Texans, Hometown Horned Lizards may offer a chance to remember—to recall long summer days filled with lemonade stands, swimming in creeks and horned lizards on string leashes. For another generation, the students, perhaps it offers a chance to connect with a Texas legend and the people who knew it best.”

For more information about the Hometown Horned Lizards essay contest or to receive a set of participant guidelines, including entry forms, visit http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/htht/ or call (800) 792-1112 ext. 7011.

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