As a child, I used to observe and even play with a small animal that we called horny toads. I was intrigued by their prehistoric look and felt like I was holding a small dinosaur.
But that was then, when they seemed to be plentiful. Now, it’s not that easy. It’s been 12 years since I’ve seen one. So why is that?
Now listed as “threatened” by the state of Texas, the Texas Horned Lizard has rapidly declined in numbers over the past 30 years. Although still somewhat of a mystery, many believe it is due to fire ants, contamination of their habitats, and even mass capturing for the pet trade. That’s too bad since horny toads don’t survive well in captivity.
Horny toads like to live in open, grassy and shrubby areas where they are easily camouflaged. While they eat mostly red harvester ants, they protect themselves from being eaten by both their horned skin and by puffing themselves up to look larger and more daunting. They also can shoot a stream of blood from their eyelids as another means of self-defense.
Although horny toads can still be found in some parts of South and West Texas and in the Panhandle, there are many efforts being made to try and save this species from continued decline. You now must have a scientific permit to handle one, and there is research being done by Texas Parks and Wildlife to see if restocking them in the wild is an option for re-population. There is a Horned Lizard Conservation Society that funds research and conservation projects, found at www.hornedlizards.org. You may purchase a specialized license plate to help fund such projects.
There also is a Horned Lizard Watch annually, in which you can participate and gather data for further research. Go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hornedlizards/ to learn more.
I really hope that we don’t lose these creatures which, to me, symbolize part of the uniqueness of Texas. I want my grandchildren to experience seeing them in their natural habitat, not just in pictures or on license plates.
Check out the above websites to learn more and to find a way to help preserve these Texas jewels.
Darla Menking is a certified Bell County Texas Master Gardener and a Texas Master Naturalist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.