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An employee with Decatur ISD spotted a rare find while mowing the grass at McCarroll Middle School Tuesday morning.
While seated on a riding lawnmower, Ricky Potteet saw a Texas Horned Lizard moving in the grass. The lizard is also called a “horned toad,” “horny toad” and the “horned frog” which serves as the mascot for Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
“It’s been about 30 years since I’ve seen one of them in the wild,” said Potteet. “I used to play with them all the time when I was a child.”
The flat, wide-bodied lizard sported a pair of horns on his head like a diminutive dragon. A light-colored line curved along his spine and tail. His entire body is covered by tiny spines or horns, raised over bright yellow circle patterns on his back.
“You’d be amazed at all the wildlife you can see while riding a lawnmower,” Potteet said.
As soon as he saw it, he jumped off his mower and caught it.
“They are fast … and they will spit at you,” he said.
The horned lizard can squirt a stream of blood from the corners of its eyes and from its mouth at predators. The blood is mixed with a foul-tasting chemical that prompts coyotes or other would-be predators to look elsewhere for a snack.
Although horned toads used to be common in North, Central and East Texas, they have all but disappeared from those areas.
“You don’t see them much in this area at all anymore,” Potteet said. “They think it’s because the red ants they feed on aren’t around like they used to be.”
About 70 percent of the diet of a Texas Horned Frog is the red harvester ant. However, multiple factors have led to fewer harvester ant colonies and thus fewer Texas Horned Lizards.
“Red imported fire ants are believed to eliminate harvester ants and prevent new colonies from forming by preying on mated queen harvester ants,” said Bastiaan M. Drees, an entomologist with Texas A&M University. “Red imported fire ants may prey directly on lizards or on hatching eggs of lizards.”
And insecticides used to kill or control the fire ants inadvertently eliminate more harvester ants than fire ants. Increased urbanization has also affected the natural habitat of the harvester ant and the horned frog.
“Urbanization, mowing, shredding, shallow discing and other land-use practices can eliminate or reduce the production of weed seeds on which harvester ants feed,” Drees said. “Harvester ants and horned lizards, which are dependent upon this ant species, cannot survive in these disturbed habitats.”
The Texas Horned Lizard is a protected species. Potteet said after he shows the creature to his children he plans to release it back into the wild.
“I wish there was some way we could re-populate the area with them again,” Potteet added.