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The Horned Lizard – A Very Unique and Interesting Reptile

The Texas Horned Lizard

Texas Horned Lizard

Texas Horned Lizard


There are 15 different species of horned lizards. They are found in arid and semi-arid areas of the Western United States and Mexico. They are all commonly referred to as the “horny toad”, as they have a short, squatty body and a little snub nose similar to that of a toad. However, they are lizards and do belong to the family of reptiles.

Texas Horned Lizard

Small Texas Horned Lizard

Small Texas Horned Lizard

Small Texas Horned Lizard

Small Texas horned lizard in the hand of a member of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Small Texas horned lizard in the hand of a member of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.


Horny toads range in size from 2 ½ inches to 6 inches in length and are covered in small spikes. Depending on the species some spikes are more prominent than others. Longer spikes or “horns” are found on the head. The spikes are actually modified scales, but the horns are true horns, being made up of a bony material. They are gray or dull brown in color with a broad short tail.


The horned lizard is actually a very docile animal and will “play dead” if you hold one in your hand. They have never been known to bite and were popular as pets until some species have become endangered. Many states have made owning a horned lizard illegal.


The horned toad’s diet consists mainly of ants, they prefer harvester ants. They will also eat beetles, grasshoppers and termites. This lizard does not attack their prey. Rather they sit and wait for their prey to happen by. They are able to camouflage themselves to match their terrain and are difficult for their prey to see. Their prey will be snatched up before they know the horny toad is there.


They have a very unique way to avoid predation themselves. When threatened, they are able to “puff up” in order to make themselves appear larger and harder to swallow. They are also good diggers and will quickly burrow themselves in a shallow hole, flatten out their body and hide. There are at least four species that are able to shoot a stream of blood out of the corner of their eyes for a distance of 3 to 5 feet. They actually aim this stream of blood, with amazing accuracy, for the eyes and mouth of their predator. This stream of blood will temporarily blind their predator and it also has a foul taste.

They are able to squirt this stream of blood by restricting the blood flow leaving their head which increases the blood pressure and ruptures tiny blood vessels in the corner of their eyelids. The foul taste will normally ward off cats and dogs, but doesn’t seem to have much effect on predatory birds.


Some species of the horned lizard will give birth to their young, while others will lay eggs, depending on their habitat. Most species will lay eggs twice in one year, increasing their population. She may lay between 10 to 30 eggs which will hatch on only about 2 weeks. She will cover the eggs with a shallow layer of sand and leave them to hatch and fend for themselves.

Interesting Facts

The largest of the species is the Texas Horned Lizard which reaches about 6 inches in length. The Texas horned lizard is considered endangered and in the state of Texas it is illegal to purchase, possess or transport the horny toad. Texans have designated the Texas horned lizard as their official state reptile. The numbers have declined not only due to habitat decline, but the decline in the number of harvester ants, which make up approximately 70% of their diet.

Range Map

Range Map of the Horned Lizard.

Range Map of the Horned Lizard.

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Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 12, 2015:

They do look a little scary, don't they! If they eat fire ants, I'm with you, I would create a horned lizard habitat for them here! Thank you for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful day!

RTalloni on March 09, 2015:

They do not look harmless, but it would certainly give one pause for thought to come upon them unexpectedly! Such interesting creatures and I would love to see one in its natural habitat. I wonder if they would eat fire ants. If so, I may build a mini kingdom for some to live in.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 04, 2015:

Hi, colorfulone! People will make pets out of all sorts of animals, won't they! Hubby and I have only seen one at our place in the last 13 years. I am sure their populations are still declining. I too, hope they do not become extinct.

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Susie Lehto from Minnesota on March 02, 2015:

Another interesting article. It shouldn't surprise me that people make pets out of horned lizards, but it did for some reason. I hope they do not become extinct.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 13, 2014:

Hi Peggy! I have only seen 2 since I have moved to Oklahoma. I really hope they haven't disappeared around here.Thanks for the pin and share! Have a great day! :)

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 13, 2014:

They used to be quite common when we first moved to Texas from Wisconsin back in 1960 but I have not seen one now in decades. Interesting creature! Pinning and sharing.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

I have only seen a couple of them since we moved to Oklahoma. I would love to show one to my daughter and grandchildren now. Thank you for stopping in Mel! I am going to try to be here more often. :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

Thank you Glimmer Twin Fan, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

Thank you Peg! I'm glad you enjoyed by hub! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

Thank you very much, DDE :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

Thank you shanmarie! Believe it or not, I have never watched Old Yeller. I have heard how sad it is and I refuse to watch it. Thank you for stopping by! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

Hello, Faith Reaper! I have played with them several time when I was young. I had spit on me before too and it was really gross. I'm afraid I am not back as much as I would like to be, but I am working on it! Thank you so much for your kind comment. Blessing back to you my friend! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on July 12, 2014:

Thank you Ann! I lived in Texas for 17 years and didn't know that either! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub and I'm sorry it took me so long to reply to your kind comment. :)

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 06, 2014:

I grew up catching horny toads as a kid, and a couple years ago, just to show I still got it, I caught one to show my wife. They are always fun to catch and carry around for a bit, because as you've said they become quite docile in the hand. Fortunately I've never been a victim of that horrible blood-squirting trick. Nice to see you here.

Claudia Porter on July 02, 2014:

Interesting. I think they sell these at the pet stores up here in NW PA. I've always loved reptiles. Thanks for the good read.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on May 28, 2014:

This little guy has some surprising defense mechanisms. Wow. I enjoyed learning about this reptile.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 24, 2014:

I have read and watched documentaries of the Horned lizard but never had the opportunity of seeing one. You have written a well-informed hub on this unique reptile.

Shannon Henry from Texas on May 23, 2014:

Very interesting. Every time someone mentions one of these critters, I can't help but think of that scene from Old Yeller where the little kid pulls it out of his pocket and then ends up trading the lizard for the dog. But despite living in TX, I don't think I've ever actually seen one in person.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 19, 2014:

Such an interesting creature. I have seen one before, but I can't remember if it was on television or actually out in Texas as we lived out there for two years when my husband was in the Air Force. Hmm ... I know if I saw one in real life, I would not forget this fascinating creature! Glad to see you back.

Great hub here. Up and more and away


Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 19, 2014:

Hi Shauna! Thank you so much, I have really missed several of my friends here and you, my dear are one of those!

I used to love to play with horny toads when I was a kid. I have only seen one since I have been in southern Oklahoma. Apparently they are pretty scarce around here. :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 19, 2014:

I agree FlourishAnyway. I wouldn't want to keep one as a pet, they belong in the wild. :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 19, 2014:

Thank you Dirt Farmer! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 19, 2014:

Not a pretty fella but likeable. I would not want one as a pet. They belong in the wild.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 19, 2014:

Sheila, it's so good to see you again!

I don't think we have horny toads in Florida, but I sure wish we did. They would be the answer to a lot of garden and home pest problems.

You did a wonderful job of explaining these critters. I've fallen in love with a reptile!

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on May 19, 2014:

Goodness, I live in Texas and didn't know a horny toad was our state reptile! I did know that were endangered. I've never had the privilege of seeing one, though. This is a very interesting hub and I enjoyed learning about the horny toad - I've heard about them but never knew much about them.

Jill Spencer from United States on May 19, 2014:

Amazing that such a formidable looking little creature should be so harmless. Interesting hub! Enjoyed it.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 18, 2014:

Thank you Jackie! It has been a while. It looks like things have really slowed down here too. I hope to be back more often now. :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 18, 2014:

Oh I think I would love one; I could keep them well fed too; I have zillions of ants! They really are cute. Good to see you! Been awhile!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 18, 2014:

Thank you Bill! I agree, I don't want to have a wild creature as a pet, they deserve to be left where they belong. :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 18, 2014:

Interesting as always. Interesting creature, but I wouldn't want one as a pet...but then I'm not too crazy about anyone having a wild creature as a pet, so there you go. :)

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