Critter's Corner: Horny toad is really a lizard

Nov. 28, 2010 at 5:28 a.m.

The horny lizard can nearly disappear into the desert floor, because of its coloring, to avoid getting eaten by its predators.

The horny lizard can nearly disappear into the desert floor, because of its coloring, to avoid getting eaten by its predators.

Editor's Note: This is a new weekly column by Texas Zoo education curator Karalyn Jones.

Once upon a time, a funny looking critter would scurry across the dry plains of western Texas. This horned lizard was known as the horny toad because of its wide, flat body and fierce-looking horns.

Why am I using "was," you ask? Well, this critter use to be a part of many of our childhood memories, but now its population has dwindled to just that - a memory.

Despite its name, the horny toad is fully lizard and has quite a picky appetite. It prefers harvester ants - large bodied ants often mistaken for fire ants. In a pinch, the horny toad will also eat grasshoppers and beetles.

To avoid getting eaten, the horny toad can perform several show stoppers. First, it can nearly disappear into the desert floor because of its coloring and ability to burrow quickly.

Second, it can puff out its body like a big ball of spikes.

Third, it can shoot blood from its eye lids. That's right: As a last-minute resort, horny toads can let loose a stream of up to of their blood. Their aim isn't great, but it is certainly a sure-fire way to gain a few seconds to escape.

When the horny toad isn't storming harvester ant piles or scaring off predators, it spends its day either basking in the sun or lounging in a sand bath.

As a reptile, the horny toad must gather heat from its environment to build the energy needed to move, eat, and even keep its heart beating.

To hide, cool off, and even hibernate, the horny toad can burrow into the sand.

The horny toad is a true hibernator. When the cool of fall and winter set in, the horny toad will lower its metabolism and not eat or move until the heat returns.

Two other lizards are often mistaken for the horny toad: the spiny lizard and bearded dragon. Both of these lizards appear armed with spikes and horns like the horny toad, but lack the short tail and wide, flat middle.

Full grown, only the horny toad will fit in your hand.

Between losing half its habitat, being sold to tourists, and its main food source being exterminated, this little guy has almost disappeared from the Texas landscape. But if you're lucky, you might find one basking in the sun.

If you want a sure bet at seeing one, come visit ours at The Texas Zoo. You'll most likely find him buried neck-deep in the sand.

Critter Knowledge

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