I Miss the Texas Horned Toad
Basics about the Horny Toad
- The Texas Horned Toad (Phrynosoma cornutum), known more commonly as the Horny Toad is a federal category c2 threatened species lizard.
- The horny toad is flat-bodied and looks more ferocious than he is.
- His head is covered in multiple horns with two of them more prominent than the others.
- He's brownish in color and has two rows of fringed scales along each side of this body.
- The horny toad can be found in arid and semi-arid regions with sparse plant covering.
- They dig for purposes of hibernation, nesting and insulation, so they prefer sandy or loamy soils.
- They can be found in the south-central united states to northern mexico including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico.
Remembering the Horny Toad
As a kid growing up in the late 60s and early 70s in central Texas, I quite regularly saw horny toads. They were fascinating creatures. Even though they looked mean, they were quite gentle and would allow you to hold them. I remember that my dad usually caught them for me and then handed them to me rather than me trying to catch them myself.
Although the reason for their disappearance is not entirely known for sure, I feel that it is connected to the increase of the fire ants. We now have fewer harvester ants, or ants we called red ants when I was growing up. This was the chief food source for the horny toad.
I regret that this is a species much loved as a child that I have never been able to introduce to my kids. They truly have missed out.
The Story of Old Rip
In 1897 in Eastland, Texas, EE Woods, an Eastland resident, had a horny toad in his pocket for his sons when he came upon the town fathers placing various articles into the cornerstone that would serve as a time capsule for the new Eastland County Courthouse. They had placed a few coins, a Bible, a newspaper, and a bottle of whiskey into the capsule. When they asked if anyone else had anything to offer, EE. Woods offered the horny toad in his pocket.
Thirty-one years later, on February 18,1928, the courthouse was being demolished to erect a new one and Mr. Woods reminded everyone that he had put a live horny toad in the cornerstone. There were over 4000 people in attendance to see if the horny toad was still alive.
At first, the horny toad seemed lifeless, but it appeared that he swelled up as he took a breath of fresh air and begin to twitch and spring back alive. Naming him after Rip Van Winkle, Rip was now a local hero who immediately began to tour. He met President Calvin Coolidge in Washington DC. He went to St. Louis and made public service announcements and endorsed tennis shoes. Robert Ripley of "Ripley's Believe it or Not" featured Rip on newsreels everywhere.
Rip spent the last months of his life living in a fishbowl in the front window of Mr. Woods' house. During winter he caught pneumonia and died on January 19, 1929, just under a year from his resurrection from the cornerstone. A casket company provided a glass case, a monument company provided a marble base and a taxidermist preserved Rip all for free.
Old Rip was kept on display at the Eastland County Courthouse. When John Connally was running for governor of Texas in 1962 he made a campaign stop in Eastland. Wishing to catch a photo-op with Old Rip, he held the fragile toad up by his hind leg, snapping it off. This is the same John Connally who went on to be wounded in the same incident that killed President John F. Kennedy just a year later.
In 1971, Old Rip was toadknapped and was missing for about a year before a tip led to his recovery at the Eastland County fairgrounds.
From June to August, 2002, Old Rip was a guest at the Best of Texas Festival at Six Flags Over Texas.
To this day, you can visit Rip in his casket at the north side of the Eastland County Courthouse
1955 Warner Brothers Cartoon "One Froggy Evening"
If the legend of Old Rip sounds familiar, then you may recall seeing the 1955 Warner Brothers cartoon entitled "One Froggy Evening". Famed cartoonist Chuck Jones was inspired by the strange Texas tale and created the cartoon. In the cartoon they pry open a bank cornerstone and discover a living frog who just so happens to sing ragtime jazz, but never when anyone else is watching. This animated short is considered a classic and listed as #5 in the 100 all-time favorite cartoons.
The frog in the cartoon was named Michigan J. Frog and became the official host of the WB Network.
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