I'm prejudiced! I'm posting about a creature that I grew up around that will help us get into the mood for the desert of Charlie Chan in Reno--our Tuesday Night Chat Room (8:00 to 10:00 P.M. [EDT], with the movie starting at 8:30).
It's the Horned Lizard, or Genus "Phrynosoma," what we have always called horny toads. No cracks, please!
Of all the North American lizards, Horned Lizards are the most fearsome-looking and distinctive by virtue of the pointed, protruding "horns" above their eyes.
The numerous species of Horned Lizards, all members of the genus "Phrynosoma," have very wide, flattened, toad-like bodies. The tail is short but broad at the base. In most species, the back of the head and temples are crowned with a prominent row of sharp, pointed horns. The tail and sides are fringed with sharp spines. On some species the sides are adorned with a double fringe of spines. On the back, there are rows of short conical spines.
To the uninitiated, their dragon-like appearance is quite formidable. The squat form and head armor has given rise to the name "hornytoad," "horned toad" and "horned lizards." However, since there is a true toad with horns, it is best that we speak of this genus as the "Horned Lizards."
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Range and Habitat
Horned Lizards are found only in the western portions of the United States and Mexico. There are 14 recognized species. They range from Arkansas to the Pacific Coast, and from British Columbia south to Guatemala. These lizards are creatures of hot, dry, sandy environment's.
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Regardless of where they occur, there is a similarity in their habits. In the fall, they hibernate by burying themselves in the sand. They emerge in the spring when the sun's rays have reached a certain temperature. The first few hours of the day are spent basking, usually flattened against a rock or on slanting soil, so their back is exposed to the sun. At times, while warming up, they may fatten and tilt their bodies toward the sun to obtain maximum radiation.
As soon as their body temperature rises to a specific degree, they commence foraging for food. As the heat of the day increases, they become more active. They feed on slow-moving, ground-dwelling insects, spiders, sow bugs, and occasional tick and even items as large as the butterfly and sphynx moth larvae.
But ants seem to be their major food source. They do not pursue their victim hastily, like some lizards, but poise over it and methodically take it, in toad-like fashion, with a flick of their long, sticky tongue. The toad-like action ceases if disturbed, for they will flee as rapidly as a startled mouse.
After feeding, when ground temperature becomes too hot, they seek the shade of a shrub, partially concealing themselves. There they spend the remainder of the day. In the evening, while it is still warm, they "dig" in for the night.
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. . . when found partially covered with sand, they are rather easily captured. Their defense mechanism is quite limited. When caught by hand, they may distend their bodies by filling their lungs with air and twist their head in a futile attempt to scratch you with their horns. On occasion they spurt blood from the corners of their eyes, which is startling, to say the least.
[Please check out the website for the whole fascinating article!]
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Courtesy of www.aqualandpetsplus.com/Lizard149.jpg