The Horned Lizard – A Very Unique and Interesting Reptile
The Texas Horned Lizard
There are 15 different species of horned lizards. They are found in arid and semi-arid areas of the Western United States and Mexico. They are all commonly referred to as the “horny toad”, as they have a short, squatty body and a little snub nose similar to that of a toad. However, they are lizards and do belong to the family of reptiles.
Texas Horned Lizard
Small Texas Horned Lizard
Horny toads range in size from 2 ½ inches to 6 inches in length and are covered in small spikes. Depending on the species some spikes are more prominent than others. Longer spikes or “horns” are found on the head. The spikes are actually modified scales, but the horns are true horns, being made up of a bony material. They are gray or dull brown in color with a broad short tail.
The horned lizard is actually a very docile animal and will “play dead” if you hold one in your hand. They have never been known to bite and were popular as pets until some species have become endangered. Many states have made owning a horned lizard illegal.
The horned toad’s diet consists mainly of ants, they prefer harvester ants. They will also eat beetles, grasshoppers and termites. This lizard does not attack their prey. Rather they sit and wait for their prey to happen by. They are able to camouflage themselves to match their terrain and are difficult for their prey to see. Their prey will be snatched up before they know the horny toad is there.
They have a very unique way to avoid predation themselves. When threatened, they are able to “puff up” in order to make themselves appear larger and harder to swallow. They are also good diggers and will quickly burrow themselves in a shallow hole, flatten out their body and hide. There are at least four species that are able to shoot a stream of blood out of the corner of their eyes for a distance of 3 to 5 feet. They actually aim this stream of blood, with amazing accuracy, for the eyes and mouth of their predator. This stream of blood will temporarily blind their predator and it also has a foul taste.
They are able to squirt this stream of blood by restricting the blood flow leaving their head which increases the blood pressure and ruptures tiny blood vessels in the corner of their eyelids. The foul taste will normally ward off cats and dogs, but doesn’t seem to have much effect on predatory birds.
Some species of the horned lizard will give birth to their young, while others will lay eggs, depending on their habitat. Most species will lay eggs twice in one year, increasing their population. She may lay between 10 to 30 eggs which will hatch on only about 2 weeks. She will cover the eggs with a shallow layer of sand and leave them to hatch and fend for themselves.
The largest of the species is the Texas Horned Lizard which reaches about 6 inches in length. The Texas horned lizard is considered endangered and in the state of Texas it is illegal to purchase, possess or transport the horny toad. Texans have designated the Texas horned lizard as their official state reptile. The numbers have declined not only due to habitat decline, but the decline in the number of harvester ants, which make up approximately 70% of their diet.
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