Are Horny Toads Disappearing from Phoenix?

Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published April 21, 2002.)

Q: When I was a kid growing up in Phoenix there used to be horny toads everywhere. I even had a pet horny toad. Now I never see them. What happened to all the horny toads?

A: You had a pet horny toad? That’s sad. Couldn’t you get your parents to buy you a dog or a cat or a goldfish or something?

Now, for one thing, horny toads are not really toads. They are horned lizards. There are 14 species of these beasties in North and South America, eight in the United States. They are distinguished by 30 to 35 spines of varying lengths around the head and neck. They are about as Arizonan as you can get. Almost every ancient
Native American culture—Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon— recorded horny toads in pottery or petroglyphs.

Horny ToadI consulted with Glenn Walsberg, professor of biology at Arizona State University, on the matter of the scarcity of horny toads, and he said it probably is a loss of habitat.

Horny toads are not particularly urban creatures. Desert, dirt roads, farm fields—that’s where you find horny toads. Look out the window. See any desert, dirt roads or farm fields? See any horny toads?

Another possibility, I suppose, is the fact that horny toads eat ants, and over the years we have been infested with Argentine ants.

Maybe horny toads don’t like Argentine ants. I don’t know.

One thing about horny toads: When threatened by a predator they can squirt blood out of their eyes from a special sinus behind their eyeballs. This is pretty cool. Not even my masters would eat something that had blood squirting out of its eyeballs, although you can never tell about them.

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