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Texas Horned Lizard
Photo Credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, www.forestryimages.org
Scientific Name: Phrynosoma cornutum
Other Names: “Horned Toad”
Description: A flat bodied, fierce looking lizard from 2.5 to 7 inches in length. True to its name the Texas horned lizard has a large crown of spines on its head, with the two center spines being the longest. Two rows of fringed scales run down each side of the lizard. Generally brownish or sandy in color, most have dark spots that help them blend into their environment. Dark lines radiate from the eye. Even thought this lizard appears fierce, it is perfectly harmless.
Distribution: Naturally occurs from Louisiana to Arizona, but was once commonly sold in the pet trade and therefore have been introduced in several locations in the Southeast. It is reportedly established along the coast in small and isolated areas. It is accidental in Alabama, but may occur in the coastal areas where sand dunes mimic their natural desert habitat. One hatchling had been collected in a field in Shelby County.
Habitat: Prefers hot, dry, sandy habitats that are mostly open. Like all reptiles, horned lizards depend primarily on their environment to control their body temperature. Most live in desert or semi-arid environments and are often seen basking in the morning sun. However they are susceptible to overheating, so as the day gets warmer, they may move into the shade and or even go into burrows to stay cool in the long summer afternoons.
Feeding Habits: Horned lizards prey almost exclusively on ants but if necessary may eat other small insects such as grasshoppers, beetles and spiders. They often sit close to anthills and pick off the ants as they go by.
Life History and Ecology: Western populations mate from April to May. Fourteen to 37 eggs are laid in a burrow dug by the female. Young hatch in about 6 weeks. Reproduction in Alabama is unknown.
Horned lizards are masters of camouflage, generally relying on their coloration for protection and sometimes even partially burying themselves in sand. If their camouflage fails, horned lizards have an unusual final defense; they can squirt droplets of blood from their eyes, potentially confusing a predator and allowing them to escape.
This lizard is common in the pet trade, but hard to keep alive in captivity, due to the availability of live large ants.
Knopf, Alfred A. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Chanticleer Press, Inc. New York. 743 pp.
Mount, Robert H. 1975. The Reptiles & Amphibians of Alabama. Auburn Printing Company, Auburn, AL. 347 pp.
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Website: http://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/phrcor.htm
The Horned Lizard Conservation Society: http://www.hornedlizards.org/hornedlizards/hornedlizards_frame.html
Author: Marisa Lee Futral Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, August 2012