God has placed some of His creatures in specific places, — you’re not likely to find a kangaroo in East Bernard. And you will have to travel to Southeast Asia to find Macaque monkeys, and South America to see Capuchin monkeys.
Here in Wharton County and also in Lee County where I grew up, folks will tell you they once had horned toads in their yards. Horned toads. Horny toads. Horned lizards. Three different names used for the “Phrynosoma,” which is actually a lizard not a toad, a reptile not an amphibian.
Texas was/is not the only location for these prehistoric-looking reptiles, as they were/are also found in Mexico, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. While Macaque monkeys are still living in Southeast Asia and capuchin monkeys in South America, the horned toad is on the “threatened” species list (not yet, however, on the “endangered” list).
No one is sure why we began seeing fewer and fewer horned toads, but insecticides destroyed their main food source, ants. Sources say that each horned toad needs to eat about 100 ants a day, and insecticides kill 1,000 ants with one spray.
Also, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, horned toads were being sold in pet stores, so that might have contributed to their demise.
These strangely unique creatures were once plentiful in Lee County, and my brother and I enjoyed playing with them. They would puff up when you made them mad, acting like they were ready to fight (which was funny considering how small they were). When angry, their eyes would seem to get bloodshot, but they did not bite. My mother warned us not to kill them, because they kept the red ant population from growing. We really did love the little critters, so we would not have dreamed of killing them.
As kids, we thought of our horned toads as miniature. Prehistoric reptiles. Someone told us once that the lineage of these little reptiles could be traced back to the dinosaurs, — though I don’t know how reliable that source was…
According to various sources on te internet, a number of things are being done today to keep the horned toad from becoming extinct and removing it from the threatened list. Many of them are being placed in zoos, where they multiply, and then are released into the wild. I’m not sure whether the use of insecticides has decreased or not, but hopefully there are no insecticides in the wild.
To me, the horned toad is a part of the collection of memories I have of growing up in rural Texas, and I am hoping to see them return to our yards someday.
Ray Spitzenbeger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and has published three books, It Must Be the Noodles, Open Prairies, and Tanka Schoen.