Did You Know?As a defense mechanism, some species of horned lizards are known to squirt blood from their eyes for more than 3 feet. The blood not only startles the predator but also tastes foul.
Horned lizards are a genus of lizard that comprise a group of 15 species, having spikes covering their body. They are also known as horned toad, horned frog or horny toad. However, horned lizards are reptiles, which are not even distantly related to toads or frogs. The common names are given with respect to their globular shape and blunt snout that resembles toads. Found in the arid and semi arid areas of North America, these lizards can grow up to 2.5 to 6 inches in length. Dull gray or brown color, body covered with spines and horns on the head are the characteristic features used for identification of horned lizards. Detailed studies have found that bodily spines are modifications of their scales; whereas the horns are true ones. Almost all species of horned lizards are conserved, where illegal possession or transportation is strictly prohibited.
Horned lizards belong to the order Squamata of the class Sauropsida and Phylum Chordata. Taxonomically classified under the family Phrynosomatidae, the genus name of these spiny lizards is Phrynosoma. Of the 15 species, the large-sized Texas horned lizard (scientific name: Phrynosoma cornutum) is abundantly found in the United States.
The habitat range of these lizards includes Mexico and western parts of United States. Many of the species are adapted to the dry inhospitable conditions of the desert; whereas some are found in high altitudes. A very few species of horned lizards are found dwelling in coastal areas. In short, horned lizards are distributed in almost all habitats, be it hot deserts or cold mountains.
The hunting style of horned lizards is unique; usually they do not hunt for food. Rather they sit and wait for the prey to cross their path. The diet of horned lizards mainly consists of harvester ants. More than 50 percent of their diet is made up of ants. Other preferred insects include beetles, termites and grasshoppers.
Horned lizards are known to possess certain adaptive characteristics to avoid predation. The body color blends with their surrounding environment, making them almost invisible to prospective predators. When threatened, they stop and puff up their bodily spines, which make them appear bigger than their actual size.
The mode of reproduction is another adaptive feature for horned lizards. Depending upon their habitat, some species give birth to young ones; whereas the remaining reproduce by laying eggs in sandy soil. Some horned lizards tend to lay eggs twice in a season, thus increasing their population.
Considering the declining population in the last few decades, state protection is declared for Texas horned lizards. The main reasons behind their decreasing numbers is habitat destruction, pet trade and shortage of harvester ants, which is the primary food source for horned lizards. There is great hope that the population of these unique lizards will increase in the coming years.