L.A. Zoo Hatches Giant Horned Lizards

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L.A. Zoo Hatches Giant Horned Lizards

Jan 20, 2011

Nine giant horned lizards hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo; this marks the first time this species has ever reproduced in a North American zoo. The first of the nine lizards hatched November 26, 2010, and over the course of the following week the remaining eight lizards hatched.

“Giant horned lizards are extremely rare in North American zoos and they’ve never before been successfully bred in a zoo,” said Los Angeles Zoo Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians Ian Recchio. “This clutch is a milestone event for the L.A. Zoo and zoos across the continent. These lizards will serve as ambassadors for their species and aid in the study of this species.”

When they first hatched, the lizards weighed about one gram and were roughly the size of a nickel. “Giant” is a relative term, so don’t expect them to grow too large; these fierce-looking lizards will reach a maximum length of about 10 inches when full grown, large for the this family of lizards.

Though little is known about the giant horned lizard, they are one of the species that is able to squirt blood out of their eyes as a defense mechanism. While this is an interesting and unique trait, Recchio says “L.A. Zoo reptile keepers haven’t witnessed it first hand and that’s a good thing. When horned lizards perform this action it means they are under stress and feel threatened. Since the lizards haven’t displayed this behavior at the Zoo, it indicates they are comfortable in their environment here.”

Giant horned lizards are extremely rare in zoos and very little is known about the species because they hail from the semi-tropical regions of Mexico’s remote western coast and permits are rarely granted to move the species. As the lead scientist, Recchio has been working with the San Diego Zoo and the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León on a long term study of insular and Western Mexico herpetofauna. In 2008, a team of scientists from these three institutions, including Recchio, obtained the appropriate permits needed to travel to Mexico and bring giant horned lizards into the United States. Recchio and his team spent about two weeks in Mexico locating these lizards and studying their behavior so that it could be replicated in zoos. The Mexican government allowed this expedition so that protocol for the care and breeding of this species could be established. From this expedition, six adult giant horned lizards were brought to the U.S. Three adults are here at the Los Angeles Zoo and three at the San Diego Zoo.

“We’ve learned a lot about these lizards since their arrival at the L.A. Zoo,” said Recchio. “Through our observations in the field and at the Zoo, we’ve come a long way in understanding the biology and the husbandry needs of this poorly understood species.”

The giant horned lizards are currently off exhibit. The Zoo plans on including this species in the new Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles center (The LAIR), scheduled for completion in fall 2011.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $14 for adults and $9 for children ages 2 to 12. The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L. A. Zoo Web site at www.lazoo.org.


Media Contact:

Jason Jacobs/jason.jacobs@lacity.org 

Elizabeth Leider/elizabeth.leider@lacity.org 


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