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Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Q. I have lived in Hays County since the 1980s and still haven’t seen a horny toad. Why would that be? Are they native to our area?

A. I found some good information courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website. Unless indicated otherwise, the following information comes from that website.

Apparently "horny toad" is a nickname for the Texas Horned Lizard which is the most widespread of the three horned toads native to Texas. It is the only one of the three that has a light central stripe and dark lines radiating from the eye. It is also identified by two prominent horns at the rear and center of the skull.

The Texas Horned Lizard was once found throughout the state, but is now nearly gone from the eastern third. The Parks and Wildlife document refers to iNaturalist, a project of the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences. By reporting observations of all types of creatures, individuals can support scientific research. Citizen scientists may want to download the iNaturalist app.

The iNaturalist Texas Horned Lizard map shows a few reports of Texas Horned Lizards in Bexar County, Williamson County, and Bastrop County. I don’t think there is a way to tell if iNaturalist observers were searching for these horned lizards in our county. It looks like the lizards are most common in a wide arc stretching from south of San Antonio to west of Fort Worth.

If you’d like to spot a horny toad, you need to search in late spring through early fall because they hibernate when temperatures fall below 75 degrees. They sometimes begin their day be exposing only their heads to sunlight while keeping their bodies buried. Later, they may be seen sunning themselves in open areas. They are not usually active at night.

They prefer sandy loam soils that are more than twothirds sand and less than 15 percent clay. Loose, welldrained soils are more suitable for burrowing, hibernating and nesting. (If my yard is any indication, our clay soils may be one reason why horned toads haven’t been common here.)

Horned toads are usually found where native ants are abundant. Harvester ants – or "red" ants – are a favorite food, but horned lizards will eat other native ants and insects. One horned lizard can use five to six acres of habitat, often feeding on a number of different harvester ant mounds.

Red harvester ants are easily identified by their large size – up to a half inch – and generally conspicuous mound. These ants clear vegetation, forming a large circular pattern of bare ground around their nest. The mound usually has one main entrance/exit hole in the center of the cleared area. Harvesters, as the name implies, harvest seeds. Grass seeds make up the majority of their diet, and the husks of harvested seeds often surround harvester ant mounds.

A Sept. 17, 2018 Dallas Morning News article found online discusses efforts to breed horned toads and reestablish them in appropriate habitats: “Texas zoos, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, Texas Christian University biologists are working together to release hundreds of horned lizard hatchlings on state land about 100 miles west of Austin.”

One challenge: “Fire ants, the insidious South American invaders… have decimated populations of harvester ants, the primary diet of the Texas horned lizard. They also destroy lizard nests and eat hatchlings.”

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666