The Toad That's Not A Frog
In Texas, " horned lizards" aka,horny toads, horny frogs, horned Frogs
or horned Toads are the stuff of childhood memories. Past generations of Texas kids kept the horned lizards in shoe boxes
on the back porch, feeding them big red ants. Horny toads traveled across the state by the box load to Boy Scout jamborees,
and in Fort Worth, purple and white ones adorn football pennants.
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. The most
famous Texas horny toad was Old Rip, who was placed inside the cornerstone of the old Eastland County Courthouse when it was
built in 1897. Thirty-one years later the courthouse was torn down and, legend has it, there in the cornerstone was Old Rip,
none too perky but still alive. Named after Rip Van Winkle, he went on tour and was exhibited to thousands of people, including
then-president Calvin Coolidge (it was reputedly one of the few times that solemn gent smiled). When Old Rip died, his body
was embalmed, and it is still on display in Eastland. Biologists scoff at the idea that Old Rip lived 31 years; most horny
toads live a mere 6 or so.
Horny toads don't adjust well to captivity. Still, most grown-up
Texans have had, at one time or another, a horny toad for a pet. Its appeal is the combination of a fierce appearance and
an amiable personality. You can hold one in your hand, turn it over on its back, and -- if you can withstand the tickling
of its horns -- stroke its stomach until it dozes off. Unfortunately, the horny toad's appeal is in part responsible for the
decline in its numbers. In the fifties and early sixties, every tourist trap on every Texas highway sold horny toads as souvenirs.
Some collectors gathered hundreds of thousands in a single year by paying schoolchildren a nickel for each specimen they brought
in. Out of their natural home, the animals died, and so the state began protecting the Texas horned lizard in 1967. Today
it is illegal even to own one.
A second factor in the demise of the horny toad was pesticides.
Chemical sprays that didn't kill the creature itself killed harvester ants, its main food supply. A horny toad eats dozens
of ants at one sitting; one spraying kills thousands. Urbanization also hurt horny toads: widespread construction tore up
their habitat. They actually liked highway asphalt, which retained enough heat to make an ideal lounging spot, but because
horny toads instinctively freeze when they see movement, onrushing cars flattened them left and right. Nevertheless, there
are still horny toads in Texas. So next time you're in the country, drinking up the Texas sun, know you are not alone
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 of most lizards. Instead, they have a wide, flattened 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.
Horned lizards prefer to eat ants, but they will also eat many other
types of invertebrates, such as grasshoppers, beetles and spiders, to supplement their diet. Usually, they search for prey
in open areas, moving quietly searching or 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. They are preyed upon by hawks, roadrunners, snakes, lizards, coyotes, ground squirrels, mice, cats and dogs. Horned
lizards attempt to avoid predators by using various tactics, some of 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 and is probably a last resort.
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 on which they live and they can eliminate their shadows by flattening
against the ground. If forced to move, a horned lizard runs only a short distance, stopping unexpectedly. The horned lizard
lies flat, blending into its surroundings, and the predator is left chasing nothing.
Thirteen species of horned lizards are recognized in North America.
They occur from southern Canada to Guatemala. Seven species reproduce by laying eggs (oviparous) and six species give birth
to live young (viviparous). Horned lizards live in a variety of arid and semi-arid environments from oak-pine woodland to
thorn scrub deserts.
Populations of the Texas Horned Lizard have disappeared in East
and Central Texas, and are decreasing in North Texas as well. A decline and disappearance of them in Oklahoma and New Mexico
has been noted. Other species of horned lizards throughout the Southwest are also in trouble including the San Diego Coast
Horned Lizard and the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard. The primary cause for population decline is the loss of habitat by agricultural
and urban conversion. Other causes also have lead to declining populations including over harvesting for the pet trade and
curio trade and the invasion of exotic species, particularly exotic ants which the lizards can not survive on and out compete
their preferred ant.
In Texas, both the Texas and Mountain Short-horned lizards are
state listed as Protected: which means it is illegal for anyone to take, possess, transport or sell them without a special
permit. Not only is it illegal to keep horned lizards, but they are difficult to care for in captivity, and most captured
ones eventually die from improper care.
Horned Lizards are wonderful, unique lizards that share our lives
and heritage. Many of us played with them growing up because we could actually catch them - but we also let them go back to
their home in the soil and sand. Our lives and childhoods are indebted to these lizards for allowing us to share with nature
and learn from it. We hope they'll persist with us beyond the next millennium.
More Horned Lizards Infomation
Humans and horned lizards have shared each other's company for thousands
of years. This relationship is recorded from Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon, and Mimbres indian cultures through their use of
horned lizard images on pottery, petroglyphs, effigy bowls, figures, and shells. Hopi, Navajo, Papago, Pima, Tarahumara and
Zuni indian cultures portray horned lizards in their ceremonies and stories as symbols of strength. Piman people believe horned
lizards can cure them of a staying sickness by appealing to the lizard's strength and showing their respect to the animal.
They formulate a cure by singing at a patient's side songs describing the lizards and their behaviors. A horned lizard fetish
may be placed on an afflicted person's body during the songs. Native Mexican people also respect horned lizards attributing
the words, "Don't tread on me! I am the color of the earth and I hold the world; therefore walk carefully, that you do not
tread on me." A Mexican common name for horned lizards is "torito de la Virgen" or the Virgin's little bull. This name apparently
was given to the lizards both because of their horns and because horned lizards are sacred to many people due to their blood
squirting behaviors, otherwise considered weeping tears of blood.
These interesting lizards were first introduced
to European audiences in 1651 by the Spaniard Francisco Hernandez. Hernandez was fortunate to observe a living individual
which squirted blood from its eyes -- he noted this behavior in his report on the first scientific expedition to Mexico by
Spain. Over a century later in 1767, a Mexican cleric of Spanish descent, Clavigero, also showed his wonder of horned lizards
in his illustrated volumes of Mexican history. Still later, in 1828 Wiegmann coined the official scientific generic name Phrynosoma
, which is Greek for toad-bodied (phrynos means "toad", soma means "body").
The Legend of Old Rip
Rip, a horned lizard, was once the subject of a nationwide buzz. He toured the states, made headlines, appeared in Robert
Ripley's "Believe It or Not" and even traveled to D.C. to meet with President Calvin Coolidge.
The spiky celeb was a real toad about town. But, although he was
once the main water-cooler topic in offices across the country, today's populace is mostly unaware of his miraculous tale.
Thankfully, though, the good people of Eastland, Texas, do their daily best to preserve his incredible story — not to
mention the little guy himself, keeping him under glass inside a tiny, velvet casket.
The living Rip is with us no more, but his claim to fame was his
amazing ability to postpone the inanimate state that now afflicts him, though no one is certain just how he did it. In July
of 1897, the town of Eastland began construction to replace their fire-ravaged county courthouse. To commemorate the event,
a ceremony was held for the laying of the new building's cornerstone. Officials placed inside the hollow block of marble a
Bible and various other mementos, and apparently as a joke, County Clerk Ernest Wood dropped in an unsuspecting horned lizard
his son Will had brought to the event. The stone was then sealed, fixed into place and topped with three stories of judicial
Thirty-one years later, it was decided that courthouse number two
had outlived its usefulness and was torn down to make way for an improved Art Deco model. Remembering that inside lay an unfortunate
horny toad, three thousand citizens turned out to witness the opening of the old building's time capsule. Was the little guy
dead? Did he somehow survive? Schrödinger himself would have been on the edge of his seat.
On February 18, 1928, the horned toad was lifted from his tomb,
lifeless and covered with dust, and held aloft for all to see. To the crowd's astonishment, his leg began to twitch, and within
moments, his whole body was wriggling with life. The audience was ecstatic. Rip, subsequently named for the sleepy Van Winkle,
had survived the ordeal unharmed.
Sadly, however, Old Rip didn't live long to enjoy his ensuing celebrity.
On January 19, less than a year after his release, he succumbed to pneumonia. His little, light-brown body was embalmed and
displayed in the new courthouse, where he resides today
Texas State Reptile
from Texas: Texas Horned Lizard is the State Reptile
The State of Texas House of Representatives
HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 141
WHEREAS, The State of Texas traditionally has recognized certain
natural life forms commonly found within the state as tangible representations of both the state's proud spirit and its vast
and diverse natural heritage by proclaiming them official state symbols; and
WHEREAS, The Texas horned lizard, Phrynosoma cornutum, is well known
and much loved by its human neighbors in the hot, arid regions where it makes its home; and
WHEREAS, Known variously as a horned toad, horny toad, and horned
frog, this fascinating creature nevertheless is a true lizard, a member of the reptile suborder Lacertilia, with a lineage
that has been traced back to the days of the dinosaur; and
WHEREAS, The horned lizard possesses numerous attributes that qualify
it for designation as an official representative of our state; despite a spiny exterior that presents a forbidding appearance,
it is at heart a docile and peaceful creature; and
WHEREAS, A skilled hunter, the horned lizard helps to diminish the
population of a variety of insect pests; although it prefers a diet of ants, it also will eat grasshoppers, crickets, beetles,
pill bugs, and spiders; and
WHEREAS, its protective coloration and resourcefulness enable it
to escape detection by predators, but when threatened it is able to inflate its body to frighten its adversaries; and
WHEREAS, Although these characteristics distinguish the horned lizard
as a fitting embodiment of our state and its heritage, it is perhaps most appropriate for designation as an official state
symbol because, like many other things truly Texas, it is a threatened species; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 73rd Legislature of the State of Texas hereby
recognize the Texas horned lizard as an appropriate representative of our state; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the Texas horned lizard be officially designated
the State Reptile of Texas.