The Mystique of the Texas Horned Toad

The Mystique of the Texas Horned Toad

TPWD Fact Sheet & Texas Nature Trackers,                                                                           edited by Kitty Smith, Certified Texas Master Naturalist

Have you ever heard the legend of “Old RIP”?  Well, in 1897 a horned toad was placed in the cornerstone of the courthouse in Eastland, Texas, as it was being sealed. People remembered the event, but no one thought much of it until February 18, 1928, when the courthouse was demolished to make way for a new model. Three-thousand people were on hand to watch the opening of the old cornerstone. Legend has it that inside lay the horned toad — flat and covered with dust — and ALIVE! After 31 years!  If you don’t know it already, it is a hilarious story that you should Google just for fun.  Old Rip, real or fake, makes a wonderful story.  There is no debate, however,  over the existence of the legendary reptile itself, the Texas Horned Frog, the Horny Toad, or officially, the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum).


Photo ©TPWD

The Texas horned lizard, official state reptile of Texas, is a flat-bodied and fierce-looking lizard. The head has numerous horns, all of which are prominent, with two central head spines being much longer than any of the others.

Horned lizards are named for the crown of horns found on their heads, the size and number of which vary among species. Although often called horned toads, horny toads, or even horned frogs because of their wide, flattened bodies (their scientific name Phrynosoma actually means “toad-body”), they are not amphibians like other toads, but are reptiles with scales, claws and young produced on land. Three horned lizard species call Texas home, with the most widespread being the Texas Horned Lizard, or the familiar “horny toad.”

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrysonsoma modestum)
Horns: four horns of medium length lined up on the back of the head
Range: rocky areas in the western third of Texas

Greatern Short-horned Lizard (Phrysonsoma hernandesi)
Horns: robust head that is wider than long and heart-shaped, back of the head is tipped only with small horns
Range: only higher elevations, in the forests of the Davis and Guadalupe mountains of West Texas


Texas Horned Lizard (Phrysonsoma cornutum)
Horns: two prominent horns at the rear and center of the skull
Range: most of Texas, though now nearly gone from the eastern third

Texas Horned Lizards have some amazing defenses. Its horny appearance and coloration helps it to blend into sparse vegetation. Its horns may make it less palatable. It can also inflate itself to a larger apparent size. Finally, the horned lizard is renowned for its ability to shoot a stream of blood from its eyelid. Don’t mess with horny toads!

Everyone loves horny toads, but for many Texans the fierce-looking yet amiable reptile is only a fond childhood memory. The Texas horned lizard currently is listed as a threatened species in Texas (federal category C2).  Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has initiated a Texas Horned Lizard Watch. Now, by participating, you can take part in an effort to better understand why our official state reptile is doing well in some locations and what factors may have contributed to its decline in other areas. All the information you need to participate can be found at:  or by contacting: Texas Nature Trackers, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744, (800) 792-1112 ext. 8062, or .

Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends?  You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX.  For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website:

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