of what you call them - horned lizard, horny toad or horned frog - you probably
don't see many of them these days. Once an almost ubiquitous part of the Texas
landscape and psyche, the horny toad, as they are most commonly called, has been
mighty hard to find for a long time. |
You might have some luck on the
backroads and the backcountry of West
Texas, but you're not going to find many - if any - in Central
Blame pesticides, the loss of harvester ants (the toad's favorite
fare) or the invasion of fire ants, but whatever the cause, horny toads are as
scarce as cheap gasoline.
Aside from the environmental aspects, the
dramatic decline in horny toads represents a loss of part of Texas' heritage.
The horned lizard is the official reptile of Texas,
so ordained by the Texas Legislature in 1993.
| || "I'm
a horned frog from Texas" (NOT Ol'
1910 Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
would call the horny toad beautiful, except maybe in a classic, reptilian sort
of way. They're two-four inches long with a short snout, a flat body and a short
tail. It's squinty-eyed and has a prominent crown of spines and two enlarged spines
in center that look like horns. When threatened horny toads can puff up to twice
their normal size. The spines have made it the final meal of many an unwitting
If anyone ever tries to dispel the myth that the Texas horned
lizard can not squirt blood out of its eye, do not believe them. It can do this,
and does. Some of us found this out the hard way, after years of blood-free relations
with the critter.
Other than that, they are perfectly harmless. A summer
pastime of Texas children used to be gently stroking the horny toads soft underbelly
until it went into a trance. We called it "horny toad hypnosis."
state of Texas and biologists call it the Texas horned lizard and most of the
rest of us call it the horny toad, except on the campus of Texas Christian University
in Fort Worth, which has as its
mascot the Horned Frog. It's a horny toad is what it is.
The Horned Frog
designation at TCU has in the past caused a bit of consternation among the biologically
correct, like Lawrence Curtis, a former director of the Fort Worth Zoo. Curtis
crusaded to have the mascot changed to its proper name but TCU would have none
Dallas Morning News columnist Frank X. Tolbert waded into
the fray and defended the "horned frog" designation against all comers. Tolbert
enlisted the aid of New Mexico poet laureate S. Omar Baker (often referred to
as old S.O.B.) who wrote this little ditty:
"The horny toad, ill-graced
Is thought by some to be quite charmless
At least he helps
eat garden ants up
And does not try to crawl your pants up."
perhaps a bit ironic that the horny toad has become a threatened species because
the most famous story involving a horny toad concerns its incredible survival
Rip, the story goes, survived after being entombed in the cornerstone of the
old Eastland County
Courthouse for 31 years.|
When the old courthouse was torn down to
make way for a new one in 1928 Ol' Rip blinked a couple of times and eventually
tried to scamper away.
Even some people who saw the incident were skeptical.
"I know it happened because I saw it," one observer said. "I know it didn't happen
because it just doesn't make sense."
"I do not know all the facts in
the Eastland story," wrote professor Sam McInnis of Brownwood's
Daniel Baker College. "From what I know about the story I think that it is true,
because the frog was entombed in sand and rock, and it is possible for moisture
and oxygen to pass through the rock and reach the frog, and sustain life for an
indefinite period of time."
The story got as much coverage, especially
in Texas newspapers, as Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
became famous and went on a world tour with his own entourage. The strain of celebrity
did what being entombed for 31 years did not - it killed him. Ol'
Rip died of pneumonia while on tour in England.
In another irony,
celebrity might have helped lead to the demise of horny toads all over Texas
and the Southwest. For a time, Texas children collected horny toads, sold and
traded them, much like baseball cards. Thousands were bought and sold as pets
and souvenirs. None of them lived nearly as long as Ol'
Rip; most died in captivity. Numbers dwindled.
Then along came fire
ants, and the pesticides manufactured to wipe them out. The fire ants are still
here but the harvester ants on which the horny toads depended are mostly gone.
But not forgotten.
© Clay Coppedge
from Central Texas"
- November 17, 2005 column
Authors' Note: I was at Fort Hood yesterday
and a biologist pointed out to me an area where there are still horny toads. I
wanted to go look, but there wasn't time. - Clay Coppedge, November 16, 2005
Related Stories & Topics:
Rip | Eastland
County Courthouse | Texas