Cochise County Reptiles: The Texas Horned Lizard (Baby)

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Pam and I were headed to the laundry shed when the baby Texas horned lizard suddenly scooted out of the way.  Cochise County has plenty of these.  Here at the Border Fort, not a year passes that we don’t have sightings of a few adults–whom we love dearly.

They eat ants, and anything that eats ants is high on our affection list.

However, we’d not once seen a teeny tiny baby Texas horned lizard until that moment in September of 2012.  Three years ago, my stepson and a friend of his came to visit.  On their way in, the friend spotted a very young Phrynosoma Cornutum, caught it (holding it gently indeed), showed it to us, then released it back to the wild.

No photos of that one.  Didn’t have the great Canon PowerShot camera at that time, and besides, we were close to either starving or getting behind on our land payments.  Wildlife photos were not uppermost on our minds that day.

Note:  It bugged me that the young man caught the lizard, even for a moment.  To me, that’s rude.  But he wasn’t being mean or anything, so I kept my mouth shut.

That time.

The one he held in his hands was maybe a third the length of an adult.  Small, yes.  Young, yes.

But not a baby baby.  Its features were sharp and defined and every bit a miniature version of the adult it would with luck become.

The baby my wife and I encountered was not like that.  There were enough identifying features in place to mark it as a Texas horned lizard without question, but some of those features were still kind of…muddy, if you will.  Plus, the coloration was an exact match to the reddish-brown clay soil we have here, which made it virtually invisible on open ground until it moved.

On an adult, the camouflage is good, but there are distinctly sharp features and a bit of color contrast here and there.  Most likely, these serve to warn predators:  Try swallowing me, buster, and I’ll stick my spines right through your throat tissues till you suffocate, bleed to death, and die!

The most irresistible thing about the baby was its baby size, no bigger than my thumbnail.  It was not the most graceful charmer of the entire animal kingdom.

The first photo below is that of an adult Texas horned lizard–possibly even the baby’s mother, though mother and child in this species do not hang out together.  After the eggs are dumped, Mama’s moving on.

The second photo is of the baby.

Mama would pretty much fill the palm of my hand if she sat on it.  Baby, like I said, might cover a thumbnail.

Adult Texas horned lizard, palm size.

Baby Texas horned lizard, thumbnail size.

For a visual size scale on the baby lizard, consider the rocks in the pictures.  Those are not humongous boulders.  Those are pieces of driveway gravel–overgrown this year to be sure, but none of those pieces are larger than 1 1/2 inches across.

None of the rocks measure more than 1 1/2 inches across.

Were this mini-critter to be the size of, say, a Mack truck–well then, we’d be looking at The Creature From The Mud Lagoon.

The baby Texas horned lizard tries out for the part of Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

Is this my good side?

After a while, the baby lizard sort of got used to my presence.  It moved back out of the foliage-on-rocks, hit  open ground, and did a few typically horned lizard things (Texas or otherwise).  That is, I got to witness it “bobbing for ants”, though they must have been the miniature sugar ants–the bigger red fire ants would most likely be able to give an infant lizard a problem until the horned one puts on a bit of growth.

Additionally, the little one dug into the soil a bit, fore and aft.  We have no clue what they’re doing when they do this but had seen an adult (the one in the photo on this page) exhibit exactly the same sort of behavior earlier in the day.

Could be looking for food (buried ants?), but it doesn’t feel that way.  Feels more like digging a foxhole in which to hunker down.  Pregnant females might be suspected of getting ready to lay eggs when they do this, but it could also be a self-defense mechanism for the entire species.  After all, they have lighter colored undersides (like many reptiles do) and definitely become even more invisible to the casual roving eye when they’re partially covered in dirt.

Digging in.

Frequent interaction with the horned lizards who live on our acreage has taught us that they will never face you head-on unless they’ve come to trust you at least a little.  If you circle one of them (at a slight distance, say 10-15 feet), it will continually shift its position to keep its rear end more or less pointed in your direction.  They’ll look back over their shoulders at you, but face to face?

Fugheddaboudit!

One they figure out you’re not going to try to eat them, though, they’ll accept the face-on positioning with no problem.

Which makes total sense.  If you study their spines, you’ll note that while they do kind of point every which way, the general orientation is more toward the rear than otherwise.  If a predator is going to try swallowing them, they want to go butt-first.

That way, the critter trying to chow down will get all those spines spear-pointed right through the flesh of mouth and throat…ouch for the predator, but possibly lifesaving for the horned lizard.  Also, with the lizard facing outward in the stinky-breath predator’s mouth, it’s at least remotely possible the victim won’t suffocate as it would if stuffed down a throat face-first.

No, nobody told me that.  Didn’t read it anywhere.  But it makes sense, which is true of just about every survival trait on the planet.

These are the animals that squirt bloody fluid from their eyes if they’re really scared, too.  Not sure what that’s supposed to accomplish.

Anyway, it was a treat to see the thumbnail sized baby turn my way toward the end of our photo session.  It even took a couple of steps in my direction, as the adults sometimes do after I’ve love-talked to them for a while.

Made my day.

The baby Texas horned lizard finally turns to face the camera. After this shot was taken, the tiny critter took a couple of steps toward me…but then thought better of it.

 

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One thought on “Cochise County Reptiles: The Texas Horned Lizard (Baby)

  1. Yeah, they pretty much stick to the desert so far as I know.

    When I first started this site, my worry was “running out of species” to write about (with photos, of course)–but WOW, does it look like that’s going to take a while at THIS point. At the moment, the camera is recording additional species far faster than I can find time to write about them.

    Total number “down the road”? No clue.

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