Facts & Information
Horned lizards – better known as horned frogs, horned toads, and horny toads – are well-loved by virtually everyone who has come in contact with them. People in the Southwest have found memories of playing with these docile creatures when they were young. Many children have tried to keep them as pets; unfortunately, few succeeded. Horned lizards are not as common or widespread as they were 20 or 30 years ago. Our organization, the Horned Lizard Conservation Society, hopes to promote appreciation and a better understanding of our “horny toads”.
What is a Horned Lizard?
Horny toads are not frogs or toads, but a type of reptile – a lizard. Like all reptiles, horned lizards depend primarily on their environment to control their body temperature – and they like it HOT! Most horned lizards live in the desert or semi-arid environments. They are often seen basking in the morning sun on a summer day. Even so, they are susceptible to over heating, so as the day gets warmer the lizards move into the shade and may even go to under ground.
Horned lizards have many characteristics which distinguish them from other lizards. The most obvious characteristic is their body shape. They lack the sleek tubular body shape that most lizards. Instead thy have a wide, flatten form which is well adapted for camouflage and their burrowing habits. Horned lizards are noticeably spiny, with a crown of horns adorning the back of their heads and various spines on their bodies.
All horned lizards prefer to eat ants, but they will also eat many other types of invertebrates, such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, pill bugs, and spiders. Usually they search for prey in open areas, quietly waiting for an unsuspecting ant or other food item to come into view. When a prey animal passes by, the lizard quickly snaps it up with a flick of its tongue and swallows it whole. Horned lizards’ foraging behavior puts them in danger of being eaten themselves. Hawks, roadrunners, snakes, lizards, coyotes, ground squirrels, mice, cats, and dogs are their natural predators. Horned lizards attempt to avoid predators by using various tactics, some which are quite unique. Their most unusual tactic is the ability to squirt a stream of blood from the corner of their eyes. This stream may be directed with limited accuracy at the predator’s eyes and mouth. Another behavior horned lizards exhibit is the ability to inflate their bodies until they look like spiny balloons. However they most effectively avoid predators by simply holding still. Horned lizards’ color patterns closely match the soil and vegetation on which they live and they can eliminate their shadows by flattening against the ground. If forces to move, a horned lizard runs only a short distance, stopping unexpectedly. The horned lizard lies flat, blending into its surroundings, and leaving the predator to chase nothing.
A decline and disappearance of the prairie (Texas horned lizard) in the eastern half of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas has been noted. Their populations have diminished in Oklahoma and east and central Texas and are decreasing in Northern Texas as well. Other species of horned lizards throughout the Southwest are also in trouble. It is illegal for anyone to take, possess, transport or sell them without a special permit. Not only is illegal to keep horned lizards, but they are difficult to care for in captivity, and most captured ones eventually die from improper care. If you see one, appreciate it in its natural surroundings, but please don’t take it from its home.
DescriptionThe numerous species of Horned Lizards, all members of the genus Phrynosoma, have very wide, flattened, toad-like bodies. The tail is short but broad at the base. In most species, the back of the head is a solid bone, horns are not real sharp - well not cut the skin. The rest of body horns are soft. To pick one up is all most a magical delight especially to a kid. They do not feel like a snake or a frog, it’s pleasant to touch. The tail and sides are fringed with sharp spines. On some species the sides are adorned with a double fringe of spines. On the back, there are rows of short conical spines.
To the uninitiated, their dragon-like appearance is quite formidable. The squat form and head armor has given rise to the name "hornytoad," "horned toad" "horned frog" and "horned lizards." However, since there is a true toad with horns, it is best that we speak of this genus as the "Horned Lizards."
Their colors are pleasing. The back and head are soft desert gray. The markings are in pastel shades of tan, brown, red or yellow. The underparts are pale, yellowish gray. The overall colors are generally close to the predominant color of the soil. Color changes from light to dark (or reverse) can occur within a few hours.
Range and HabitatHorned Lizards are found only in the western portions of the United States. There are 13 recognized Species. They range from Arkansas to the Pacific Coast, and from British Columbia south to Guatemala. These lizards are creatures of hot, dry, sandy environments for the most part.
Some of the species inhabit the deserts proper where the sun, beating on the arid landscape, produces ground heat that is almost unbearable to humans. Others enter mountainous areas and are found as high as 10,000 feet.
The most common Horned Lizard in the western deserts is aptly named the Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) consisting of two subspecies: the Northern (P.p. platyrhinos) which inhabits the Great Basin Desert, and the Southern (P.p. calidiarum) which inhabits the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts including a finger of the east coast of northern Baja California.
Five other species of Horned Lizards inhabit the North American deserts: