Texas Horned Lizard Watch: Horned Lizard Facts
Horned lizards are named for the crown of horns found on their heads, the size and number of which vary among species. Although often called horned toads, horny toads, or even horned frogs because of their wide, flattened bodies (their scientific name Phrynosoma actually means “toad-body”), they are not amphibians like other toads, but are reptiles with scales, claws and young produced on land. More than a dozen different species of horned lizards are found throughout western North America.
Three horned lizard species call Texas home, with the most widespread being the Texas Horned Lizard, or the familiar “horny toad.” The geographic range of these species can overlap in West Texas, but they can each be readily distinguished from each other by the following characteristics.
Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrysonsoma modestum)
Horns: four horns of medium length lined up on the back of the head
Scales: few enlarged scales on the body, sides without spiky fringe
Coloring: white to gray, brown or pink, with dark blotches at the legs and neck; bands on tail
Length: 3 to 4 inches
Range: rocky areas in the western third of Texas
Greatern Short-horned Lizard (Phrysonsoma hernandesi)
Horns: robust head that is wider than long and heart-shaped, back of the head is tipped only with small horns
Scales: one row of spiky fringe scales along the side of the body
Coloring: variable colors and patterns ranging from simple brown or grey to intricate patterns of bright colors including orange, yellow, white, red, blue and green
Length: 3.5 to 6 inches
Range: only higher elevations, in the forests of the Davis and Guadalupe mountains of West Texas
Texas Horned Lizard (Phrysonsoma cornutum)
Horns: two prominent horns at the rear and center of the skull
Scales: two rows of spiky fringe scales on the side of the body
Coloring: gray to brown to rust, with dark spots in rows down the back, a light central stripe, and dark lines radiating from the eye
Length: 3.5 to 5 inches
Range: most of Texas, though now nearly gone from the eastern third
Texas Horned Lizards feed primarily on harvester ants, also called red ants. Harvester ants build large mounds with a hole in the center. Mounds are very visible, because the ants remove the vegetation from a circular area three to six feet in diameter. One volunteer reports that one way to know if horned lizards are active is to watch for harvester ants—both species like it hot! (80-95°F).
Texas Horned Lizards have some amazing defenses! Its horny appearance and coloration helps it to blend into sparse vegetation. Its horns may make it less palatable. It can also inflate itself to a larger apparent size. Finally, the horned lizard is renowned for its ability to shoot a stream of blood from its eye (actually, its eyelid). Don’t mess with horny toads!