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On the Search for the Horned Lizard of Griffith Park

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Local biologist Dan Cooper has been looking for the horned lizard in Griffith Park for the better part of three years now. There was a time when spotting them was a usual occurrence--these days, not so much. "Ask anyone over 40 who grew up here, and they'll tell you about catching 'horny toads' in the wash near their house," he explained. "My dad would catch them in North Hollywood along what would become the 170 freeway."

It was in the 1980s when they started to disappear from the area due to development. "We lost a lot of open-country species around town as big box stores and trucking distribution warehouses took up all the vacant lots where you might have once had relict native vegetation, or at least sandy soil for the lizards to hide in," said Cooper, who is working on the Griffith Park Wildlife Management Plan. The thorny looking lizards need to bury themselves in loose sand and have a good ecological relationship with native harvester ants (the big red ones), which have been overrun by the non-native Argentine ants--the ones we usually find in our kitchens.

Although it was a hard find, Cooper kept on hearing from city workers in the park that they occasionally would see the lizard. So it became his personal mission. Finally, the day came a few weeks ago while surveying plants on Cahuenga Peak, he saw one out the corner of his eye. He excitedly grabbed, took a few shots and let it go.