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(Many Paths)
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The Texas Horned Lizard A Beloved Reptile In The Lone Star State
by Michael Price - Special to San Angelo Standard-Times
Horned lizards in Texas are often menaced in their infancy by invasive fire ants.

For the most part, reptiles here in Texas are not anything more than an afterthought at best, and reviled at worst. However, there is an endearing reptile that can make even the most staunch “reptile-hater” smile, and that is the Texas Horned Lizard.

The Texas Horned Lizard (Phynosoma cornutum) is one of three species of “horny toads” that live in Texas, and it has the largest area of distribution. It can be observed statewide, save for a small portion of the Texas and Louisiana border. It also occurs north to central Kansas, west to southeastern Arizona, and southward into the central plateau of Mexico.

The habitats that this lizard prefers are arid to semi-arid sandy areas in prairies and grasslands, as well as sand dunes and areas of open scrubland. Many can be seen basking on paved roads in the morning and late afternoon hours.

The Texas Horned Lizard is a flattened reptile that has scaled, horny skin. It is the largest horned lizard that inhabits this state, with adults reaching a total length of six inches, although the average is between four and five inches. The background coloration is tan, brownish or even reddish, many times matching the soil color. There are two large, dark brown blotches on the neck, followed by four pairs of light-edged dark spots on each side of the white mid-dorsal stripe along the spine. It also has a row of scales along the sides of the body. There are nine horns that adorn the head with the two center horns being significantly larger than the others. The belly is white and is occasionally peppered with black spots.

A desert horned lizard is captured in Joshua Tree National Park as part of an effort to monitor changes in plants and animals to track the effects of climate change.

Texas Horned Lizards, like other lizard species, are “cold-blooded”, or ectothermic. This means that they do not generate heat from the inside of their body, as mammals and birds do, but rather are dependent on outside sources for heating and cooling. They are active throughout the day in the spring and fall, adjusting their schedules to the morning and afternoon hours during the heat of the summer.

This species of lizard has a very specialized diet. It’s preferred choice of food is the large harvester ants, and many times this lizard can be seen dining in the vicinity of large, round nests of the ants. An adult Horned Lizard can feed upon as many as 100 harvester ants in one day. Unfortunately, the imported fire ant is not on the Horned Lizard’s dietary menu.

The Texas Horned Lizard is oviparous, which is a fancy way of saying that it lays eggs. After emerging from the winter-long brumation period (reptiles do not hibernate in the true sense of the word), males will search out females to mate. After mating, the female will lay anywhere from 10 to 30 eggs in moisture-retaining soil. After approximately 50 days of incubation, the tiny one-inch long young emerge prepared to fend for and care for themselves.

Populations of the misnamed “horny toad” (they are not amphibians, but rather reptiles) had been decimated over the past several decades, although in many areas they are apparently stabilizing. There have been numerous theories presented as to the reasons for the decline, ranging from man’s use of pesticide to collection for the pet trade. However, many studies have shown that the appearance of the imported fire ant has had the most influence. Fire ants can kill horny toad hatchlings, and they'll attack other ants as well, diminishing the horny toads' food source. The Texas Horned Lizard is the official state reptile of Texas. It is listed as Threatened by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and it may not be collected or harassed in any way.

National Park Service/Robb Hannawacker

Michael Price is owner of Wild About Texas, an educational company that specializes in venomous animal safety training, environmental consultations and ecotourism. Contact him at

Texas Horned Lizard range
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