Horny Toad: Definition, Types, & Examples

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Horny Toad Definition

Horny Toad is a myrmecophagous reptile belonging to the genus Phrynosoma (Toad-bodied) and order Squamata. It is commonly present in arid lands like the desert.

What is Horny Toad?

Horny Toads are adapted to live in a desert and belong to the genus of lizards that has comprise 22 species that are characterized by several large horns emerging from the dorsal part of their skull. A number of large horns on the backside of their skull. Their genus comprises organisms that have short tails and these are distributed through Central and North America.

They look for prey to eat wandering in the arid place and are solitary species. They hunt for anthills so they can easily prey and eat a large amount of food. Ants comprise indigestible fibers and as an adaptation the bellies of these horny toads are large. As a tactic to preying, they bury and hide under a layer of sand near an anthill in anticipation of the prey.

They lick up the ants silently as they pass through in their direction. Since, this occurs suddenly, the ant is unable to alert other ants before being eaten. So, the horny toad continues to prey till its appetite is fulfilled.

Horny Toad Features

The large horns give them an odd appearance. They are also known for their defense mechanisms that utilize these horns that are basically extensions of the skull. This makes them formidable to their predators as it is a possible choking threat for the animals that ingest it.

These horns also shield the neck region. Spines and scales on the horny toad also provide protection. The spines are the modified scales that are sharp and hard and also provide protection to the horny toad. Some horny toad species have an interesting defense, they squirt blood.

The exact mechanisms behind this and the reason have not been discovered yet. Some species like cats and dogs show an aversion to blood. The blood may contain certain obnoxious compounds derived from the diet i.e., ants.

Horny Toad as a Pet?

People find it fascinating to keep certain reptile species as pets, but having a horny toad as a pet is not advisable. These organisms are protected by local laws and hence it is prohibited to remove them from their habitat. There are no ways even legally to acquire a horny toad.

Even if it is legal in a particular region, then also they should not be adopted as pets as they can be hard to care for and it also reduces their wild population. They are specific for their requirement of specific types of ants depending on their species. Some ant species do not grow well in captivity, so their food source will become scarce.

If horny toads naturally occur around your area then attract more ants to make them stay. The plant species that ants feed on can be grown to attract ants.

Horny Toad and Toxin Transfer

Horny toads can squirt blood as a defense mechanism. The blood contains noxious substances derived from ants. Ants produce different types of volatile substances for defense against predators. Horny toads feeding on ants do ingest these volatile compounds also, they must have developed a sort of counter-measure mechanisms to these toxic substances.

The toxins must be built up in the blood. In case that the horny toad is threatened, it will pressure the blood vessel and block the blood from exiting from the head area. Instead, it will exit or squirt through a blood vessel in the eye. This can cause the blood to shoot at a height of up to 5 feet. These techniques are referred to as blood-repellent. Here the toxin is adapted from a prey species and converted to a defense mechanism by the predator.

Other organisms that also employ this mechanism are poison dart frogs, nudibranchs, and monarch butterflies Nudibranchs feed on corals that have small stinging cells that are not digested by them but, they are transferred to special organs to act as defense mechanisms for the organism.

Horny Toad Hunting for Ants

They are myrmecophagous that require special adaptations like an extra-large belly and sticky tongue. Other types of organisms that also solely depend on ant species for their diet are blindsnakes, Antbirds, pangolins, narrow-mouthed toads, and anteaters. They are difficult to breed in captivity due to their specific dietary requirements.

Horny Toad's Population Decline

Even though they are protected by local laws, horny toads are declining in areas like Oklahoma and Texas. In general, amphibians and reptiles have been on the decline. The reasons for this decline can be habitat loss and decreasing prey population.

The horny toads travel a large area in search of anthills and human interventions like developmental structures like homes and roads disrupt their path. Ant population has been destroyed by humans as they are considered pests.

Insecticides negatively affect the growth of ants for many years, once applied. The ants will mark and avert from the area, thus the food source supply for horny toads become unstable that can impact their survival rates.

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