Texas Primer: The Horny Toad

It’s the ugliest critter in Texas. We’d hate to see it go.

The horny toad isn’t really a toad. It’s a lizard—strictly speaking, a horned lizard. But if you grew up in Texas, you call it a horny toad. With the exception of the prissy folks at Texas Christian University—who term their mascot a horned frog—anyone who doesn’t say “horny toad” brands himself an outsider.

There are three species of horny toad in Texas. The round-tailed variety lives in the Panhandle and the Trans-Pecos, and the mountain short-horned is limited to the Guadalupe and Davis mountains. The kind most of us know is the Texas horned lizard ( Phyrnosoma cornutum), which is found all over the state. It measures from three to five inches, though a hatchling may barely reach an inch. Young are born in late summer or early fall, since horny toads, despite their name, usually mate only once a year.

The Texas horned lizard has yellow, brown, and tan markings that provide camouflage, and protective spikes and horns that call to mind its distant relative triceratops. Nonetheless, the horny toad falls prey to many larger predators, and in fact it is a frequent item in the diet of hawks and snakes. But because it is a reptile, its worst enemy is cold weather. During the day it soaks up sun, raising up on its forelegs and flattening its ribs to expose as much body surface as possible. At night it keeps warm by burrowing into sand or dirt; then, in the morning, it pokes out its head and forces blood into large cavities in its skull. By letting the blood heat up in the sun and shunting

Tags: THE CULTURE

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