Texas Horned Lizard Making a Comeback From the Brink

Texas named the Texas horned lizard, also known as the Texas horned frog or even the “horny toad,” as the state reptile. Due to its low numbers across the state, conservation groups consider it a threatened species. In recent years, though, the Texas horned lizard seems to be surging back, thanks to the efforts of some dedicated individuals.

Though it looks like a toad or a frog, the Texas horned toad is actually a lizard. The round body gives this reptile its alternative names. As unusual as it looks, this is not a creature to cross. When cornered, it shoots blood from near its eyes, creating a frightening sight that effectively scares away predators. Those with an aversion to ants love horned lizards as harvester ants account for the majority of their diet. This diet, though, may have contributed to their demise.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Once, the Texas horned lizard flourished across the entire state. People saw this reptile so often that Texas Christian University chose this unusual creature as its school mascot. Today, it’s rare for anyone in the eastern part of the state to see one of these lizards, and sightings in the central and western portions have decreased since their peak in the 1950s. Though experts have suggested many reasons for this decline, the exact cause remains a mystery.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By the 1960s, large populations of fire ants, pesticides which killed harvester ants, and possible urbanization changed the landscape for the Texas horned lizard. These factors could have resulted in a rapid decline in the horned lizard population across the state. That doesn’t mean people have forgotten the horned lizard, though. In Eastland, Texas, near Fort Worth, the annual Ripfest celebrates a fabled long-lived Texas horned lizard. Though, many attendees have never seen a horned lizard in person.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Several groups currently work diligently to restore the Texas horned lizard’s numbers today. The Horned Lizard Conservation Society spreads information on how citizens can help preserve the lizards’ habitats. The Texas Parks and Wildlife encourages citizen-scientists to do counts of horned lizards in their areas. This helps experts to identify where the lizards continue to survive. The Fort Worth Zoo has one of the only breeding programs for this reptile. It produced 200 new lizards since 2005. A private landowner, working with the Fort Worth Zoo and Texas Parks and Wildlife, allowed 13 Texas horned lizards born in captivity to be released on his property. Those working together in this program hope the released Texas horned lizards will flourish in their new home.

Though the Texas horned lizard has not returned to its previous numbers, the efforts of scientists and volunteers help to keep this reptile to move further from its threatened status. Even though it may take years before the horned lizard loses its threatened status, conservation efforts today are helping it to move into that direction in the future.


Wikipedia Texas Horned Lizard
National Wildlife Federation For the Love of a Horned Lizard
Texas Parks and Wildlife Texas Horned Lizard Watch

Written by Athena Hessong