Sometimes called Texas horned frog, or horny toad, the Texas horned lizard is the state’s official reptile.
Because of dismal numbers of late, conservationists feared the species was threatened with extinction. But due to hard work by dedicated groups, the lizard looks as if it’s making a comeback.
Despite its toady appearance and round body, the reptile is indeed a lizard – kind of a mean one, too. If feeling attacked, blood will shoot out from near its eyes, which very effectively turns off predators. They love to eat harvester ants, though, so Texans liked having them around.
The horned lizard used to be a common sight throughout Texas; they are even the mascot for Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University.
Now, they have all but disappeared from the eastern portion of the state, and even in central portions and out west, they are a rare sight. The exact reason for this has not been determined.
While their population peaked in the 1950s, in the 1960s, a surge in venomous fire ants numbers and pesticide use coupled with loss of habitat slowly changed the horned lizard’s environment. Experts say all of these factors may have played their part in the reduction of horned lizard population.
Luckily, several conservation groups are hard at work restoring them to the Texas hills and plains.
The Horned Lizard Conservation Society provides education on how to protect the lizard’s habitat; the Texas Parks and Wildlife asks residents to record numbers of lizards whenever they see them; and a breeding program sponsored by The Fort Worth Zoo is producing lizards to release in the wild. All of these combined efforts are slowly bringing the horned lizard back.
Their numbers will likely never be as they once were (as long as humans are around, anyway). But with volunteers and citizens working together, they will (hopefully) be here for future Texans and visitors to enjoy, scampering around, sucking up ants, shooting blood from their eyes and doing their Texas horny toad thing.