Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image A child carefully holds this horny toad found near the Pine Canyon area. After being photographed, the toad was returned unharmed.

December 11, 2014
Odd horny toads possess a variety of defense tactics

The horny toad, also known as “horned toad” or “horned lizard,” are physically peculiar reptiles that are known to use one or several different defense tactics in an attempt to escape predators.

Because of the horny toad’s flat and plump appearance, many animals tend to be hungrily drawn to them, but are often confused or startled away by the toad’s actions. Their main predators include hawks, other raptor birds, lizards, dogs, cats, coyotes and wolves.

Generally matching the surface color of their environment, horny toads will first attempt to remain unseen by camouflaging amongst their habitat. Doing so by simply freezing, horny toads will remain motionless until a nearing predator leaves or gets too close. If the toad is spotted or the threat eventually gets too close, it will then try to confuse their pursuer by swiftly running and stopping repeatedly.

If camouflaging and running fails, horny toads (depending on the species) have been known to use one or more of these oddly eccentric defense mechanisms. One of which is inflating itself up to twice its normal size, making itself more difficult to swallow, and to seemingly appear more threatening and larger.

Another is when an attempt to pick them up by the neck happens. Horny toads will make it more difficult to grab them by ducking or elevating their necks, while also directing their neck/back horns to face upward or backward. When the attempt is made to be picked from either side of their bodies, horny toads will squish that side into the ground so it can’t be easily scooped up by the lower jaw of an animal.

Some species of horny toads are capable of restricting blood flow from leaving their head and then shooting blood from their corner eye-vessels directly onto a predator — the strangest of all defenses used by this lizard. They are capable of squirting this stream of blood three to five feet. Horny toads will aim for their enemy’s mouth because the blood tastes noxious and foul, especially to animals such as wolves, coyotes and dogs. However, this weapon tends to be ineffective against birds.

It is interesting to note that despite their spiky, rigid looking bodies, horny toads are harmless and can be held and touched by humans. Remember though, it is illegal to take horny toads from their natural habitat and keep domestically.

 

Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be reached at CritterChatter@live.com.

 

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