Horned toads, also known as horny toads or horned lizards, are a type of lizard that is largely native to the North American continent. These animals, which are reptiles, are known by the scientific name Phrynosoma which translates to 'body like a toad'. The most commonly occurring species of horned lizards are Texas horned lizards, also known as Phrynosoma cornutum.
The horned lizard (Phrynosoma) is characterized by a spiky snout, small and flattened round bodies, and camouflage abilities. Texas horned lizards naturally are found in the deserts of Texas but horned lizards can also be found in the American states of Colorado, Kansas, and Arizona. Texas horned lizards are sometimes confused with Texas spiny lizards. Once popular as pets, Texas horned lizards have declined in numbers recently since they don't do great in captivity. In Oklahoma, Texas horned lizards are under protection, and April to September is considered an active season for these horned toads in Oklahoma.
Of the many species of horned toads, one is the short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). The short-horned lizard is as big as a teacup, about 2.5-6 in (6.35-15.24 cm) long. The short-horned lizard is also native to the Northern and Central Americas, ranging from Guatemala to southern Canada. The short-horned lizard, much like any other horny toad, has specific defense mechanisms. The short-horned lizard is capable of ejecting blood from the periphery of its eyes which proves effective against dogs and coyotes, blowing up its body to twice its size to resemble a spiky balloon. The pet trade and destruction of their habitat have both proven detrimental to the short-horned lizard population.
According to different sources, there may be anywhere between 22 to 89 total species of the horned toad. Of these, about 15 species exist in the North American continent, mainly in the Sonoran desert, and also in Mexico. Brown is one of the most common colors on the body of this reptile, helping it to blend in with the brown of the sand. Their behavior is described as sluggish and stationary. Different species of these reptiles favor different geographic habitats. The flat-tailed species of the horned lizard favors the fine sand of the desert, whereas short-horned lizards favor shortgrass prairies and fir forests. Regal-horned lizards are most common in rocky and arid regions of the Arizona hills and slopes. Horned lizards can exist from sea level to altitudes as high as 11,000 ft (3,353 m).
This toad's appearance is characterized by a thorny projection (or horns) from their head and parallel, fringe-like scales on their side, swollen tails, and anal scales on males. Regal-horned lizards almost exclusively eat harvester ants, but not dead ones. Horned lizards capture ants via their very sticky tongues, not their jaws since they have very short teeth. Although harvester ants are venomous, their venom seems to have little effect on the insides of a horned lizard. A whole swarm of ants, however, is a threat to a horned lizard and they retreat in the presence of one. An adult horned lizard can be killed by a swarm of ants that attacks together.
The tough exterior of the bodies of the horned lizard proves to be a challenge for predatorial snakes. Also, horned lizards are sometimes indistinguishable from rocks, their camouflage being that excellent. The tough body may sometimes hinder mobility, however. A horned lizard may also pretend to be dead or present the thorny large part of its body to a predator like a snake. Another defense tactic is to run away, suddenly stop, and hiss at their predators, squirting blood out of their eyes and wagging their tails violently. Another great feature of their bodies is that it makes it easy for them to collect heat from the sun, especially in lower temperature habitats. The horned lizard is able to orient and move its body to obtain maximum sunlight. And for horned lizards that live in the arid desert, digging into the soil comes easy. The lizard makes use of the scales on its lower jaw to disturb and cut the soil or earth, and then vibrates its jaw and literally shakes its body into the ground, with almost no part left above the ground's surface.