H is for Horny Toad! Named for appearance and not really a toad at all, the Short-horned Lizard is actually a reptile whose spiked facade comes in handy since he is preyed upon by just about everybody from birds and snakes to dogs and coyotes.
Roughly the size of an average coaster (though I’ve seen them the size of dimes), the Horny Toad is an extremely patient hunter who dines primarily on ants (yes!) and the occasional spider or grasshopper. His coloring tends to match the color of the soil in his region of residence and affords him near invisibility to the casual passer-by. He is most active as temperatures rise and loves to stretch out on rocks and soak up rays.
Mating is a highly competitive sport for the males, but once they do they’re off to find another gal. Meanwhile, the female must quickly create a nest as her eggs will arrive in as little as a couple weeks. She will then cover her 10-30 eggs with sand and depart; leaving her young to fend for themselves.
Lastly, should a predator not be dissuaded by his appearance, the Horny Toad has two last tricks up his sleeve; one is to puff himself up to twice his normal size and the other—this is not for the squeamish—is to shoot blood from his eyes. While the subject of fear and folklore, the blood is harmless to all except dogs and coyotes.
It was great fun and quite a challenge to catch these little lizards when I was a kid, but I always set them free. These days the Pet Trade is a leading contributor to the Horny Toad's dwindling population in the wild.
Have you ever held or owned a lizard? Would you?