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Desert Diary

Reptiles/Horned Toad


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Everyone's heard of horned toads. Unfortunately, though, "toad" is inappropriate—after all, we're talking about lizards, while almost every creature called toad in the common vernacular is an amphibian, as different from lizards as lizards are from birds. Thus, herpetologists insist on using the term "horned lizards"—more correct, if less colorful.

Many people don't distinguish between different kinds of horned lizards, which is a shame, because about 14 different kinds exist, each unique. The Chihuahuan Desert boasts of three kinds, filling areas from low desert to woodlands of mountain islands. Of these, the high-elevation Mountain Short-horned Lizard is of marginal occurrence, but of considerable interest because it gives birth rather than laying eggs. Unlike in mammals, the developing young depend on egg yolk for food. Eggs buried, as by the other species, would not have enough time in the short growing season for the young to prepare for winter. The mother, basking in the sun, speeds up growth by the increase in temperature—giving new meaning to the old term of "having one in the oven". pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Short-horned Lizard

Mountain Short-horned Lizard. Photograph by Carl S. Lieb.