Cochise County Reptiles: The Texas Horned Lizard

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At least one online source states our little piece of Cochise County, Arizona, is at the extreme western edge of the Texas horned lizard’s range.  Perhaps, but we’ve got a nice supply of the spiny little critters.  Love them a lot, too.  Phyrosoma Cornutum has some great aspects to its nature:

1.  They’re absolutely darling.  (True, my thinking a low-slung, wide-bellied, super-spiky reptile like a 3-to-6-inch horny toad is attractive–that could explain quite a bit about my six divorces….)

2.  Undue fear of humans does not seem to be part of their nature.  Many a time a Texas horned lizard has needed to scramble out of the way to keep from getting stepped on, but that’s simply because their camouflage is so good.  On open ground here, they’re easily overlooked from above.

3.  They eat ants, ants, and more ants.  Which explains why we’ve never needed an ant trap in the Border Fort despite various anthills doing land office business within a few yards of our front door.  Lizards feasting on the six-leggeds tend to keep nearby ant populations in check.

The particular Texas horned lizard featured in the above photos…is quite a little tease.  Late one afternoon, it moved out of my way as I was meandering between our laundry shed and the house, watched with some interest while I took a few dozen snapshots…and then played peek-a-boo with me.

Literally.

A wornout, nonfunctional solar powered garden path light has been stuck in that same spot for nearly four years now.  After thinking it over, the little lizard scrambled over behind that “light pole” and began peeking around it, peeping over an old dead stick, up and down and all around.

“Experts” will no doubt pooh-pooh that idea, the very thought that a desert reptile from an ancient line might suddenly decide, “Hey, human dude!  You look like a cool guy!  Let’s play!”

Shows you what the experts know.

This species is apparently (according to fossil evidence) more than a million years old.  There aren’t many like them–just 14 separate species in all of the reptilian kingdom–but it’s easy enough to see why they’ve lasted this long.  They’re slow of foot, but they’ve got defenses.  It’s hard to take the blood-from-the-eyes thing seriously unless you have a blood phobia, but those spines?

Serious as a heart attack.

Any predator who tries to swallow a puffed-up Texas horned lizard is going to need a lot more help than the Heimlich maneuver.  It’s easy to imagine  big ol’ Wiley Coyote telling the pups, “Nah, we leave those spiny guys alone.  Your uncle Jed wouldn’t listen, got one stuck in his throat, and died hard.  I’m telling you, it wasn’t pretty.”

Even the bigger rabbit-swallowing snakes apparently give the horned lizards plenty of respect.

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