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Horny Toad: Basics, Unique Morphology, Distinct Adaptations And Its Tremendous and Formidable Defense Mechanism.

Kingdom    Animalia

Phylum      Chordata

Class         Reptilia

Order         Squamata

Family        Iguania

Genus        Phrynosoma

Species      22 different species!

Horny Toad Basics

Horny Toad is a desert-adapted lizard genus with a huge number of horns on the underside of their heads. Horny toads belong to the genus Phrynosoma, which means “toad-bodied” in reference to their relatively short tails. There are around 22 distinct species, with the majority of them occurring in North and Central America.

Horny toads are generally lonely creatures that spend their days scavenging for insects to eat in the desert. Anthills offer a substantial supply of food for horny toads, hence they typically target them. Ants have a lot of indigestible fibre compared to other insects. To make up for it, horny toads have enormous bellies that they can stuff with ants.

In fact, horny toads will often bury themselves in the sand and gravel near an anthill in order to collect ants. When the ants form a line in front of the horny toad, it will reach out and gently lick each ant as it passes. The following ant is completely unaware of the situation, since the ants are scooped up before they can send out warning signals. In this technique, horny toads may consume large numbers of ants.

Horny Toad

Squirting Blood and Other Defenses

Horny toads are known for their unique morphology as well as their formidable defences.

The head’s “horns” are really extensions of the skull. For most tiny animals and birds, this makes them dangerous foes. They are not only useful for protecting the neck, but they also provide a choking threat to any animal attempting to consume a horny toad. The back and side spines are not filled with bone, but they are nonetheless highly hard and sharp modified scales that give an additional layer of protection.

Around half of all horny toad species have the capacity to spew blood, which is a terrifying defence. Although it has been reported that dogs and cats have a strong dislike for blood, the specific basis for this resistance has not been discovered. The blood, according to scientists, includes poisonous components from the ants that a horny toad consumes.

Horny Toad as a Pet?!

For a variety of reasons, keeping a horny toad as a pet is not recommended.

To begin with, many horny toad species are protected by local legislation and cannot be taken from their natural habitats or handled in any manner. Most regions make it illegal to own even a horny toad.

If you reside in a state where collecting horny toads is allowed, you should think twice about it. You’ll not only be diminishing the natural population, but horny toads are very difficult to keep. Horny toads in various places often target different species of ants. You’ll rapidly run out of food, since most ant species are difficult to raise in captivity.

Consider attracting additional ants if you like horny toads and want to see more of them on your land. Planting certain sorts of plants that the ants consume, which vary by location and species, is one way to do this. With just a little study, you can find out which species of horny toad resides in your region, what insects it consumes, and what plants it is drawn to!

Interesting Insights from the Horny Toad!

Horny toads are intriguing not just because they have horns and squirt blood, but also because they have horns and squirt blood. There are some genuinely profound biological principles hidden behind all of that theatrical flair. Let’s see what we can learn about biology from the horny toad!

Toxin Transfer as a Defense

Several well-known herpetologists believe that horny toad blood repels dogs and cats because it includes components derived from ants. As a form of predator protection, ants of various species produce a variety of volatile chemicals. If these ants are eaten by horny toads, they have most likely acquired a defence against these normally lethal substances.

According to the notion, the counter-measure entails storing the poison in their blood. When a horny toad is threatened, it will stop the flow of blood from the head region. The blood is forced out of a thin blood artery in the corner of the eye by the build-up of pressure, spewing blood up to 5 feet!

This blood-repellent is an adaptation of a poison from a prey species to a predator species’ protection. Many animals, including horny toads, have evolved this protection. Other creatures that get their toxicity from the foods they consume include monarch butterflies and poison dart frogs.

Nudibranchs take it to the next level. Corals, which contain small stinging cells, are eaten by nudibranchs. These cells are not digested by nudibranchs. Instead, the nudibranch’s small stinging cells are relocated to specific organs and configured to face outward as a protection strategy!

Myrmecophagy—Ant-Eating!

Myrmecophagy is the Greek word for “ant-eating.” Myrmex is a Greek word that means “ant,” and phagy refers to a way of feeding or taking in nutrients. A myrmecophagous organism is one that feeds exclusively or mostly on ants.

A creature that solely consumes ants, unlike other insectivores, must have certain unique adaptations. The horny toad, for example, has an extremely sticky tongue and an extra-large stomach to collect and digest the vast number of ants it needs to live.

However, horny toads are far from the only creatures that feed primarily on ants and termites. Antbirds, blind snakes, narrow-mouthed toads, anteaters, and pangolins are among the numerous species that depend on this one bug. Many of these species are difficult to maintain in captivity due to their dietary limitations.

Population Decline

Horny toads, like other reptiles and amphibians, are in decline all across the world. Despite being protected by various regulations, studies in regions like Texas and Oklahoma have shown that their populations are rapidly dropping.

Experts believe that habitat damage and prey loss are the primary causes of their decline. Horny toads usually travel long distances in pursuit of the next anthill, a process that is often disrupted by human development, such as highways and houses. The habitat of horny toads is becoming more limited as people continue to spread into dry settings.

Second, ants are often seen as pests, and their numbers have plummeted as people have encroached on natural regions. Some pesticides are quite effective, yet they may linger in the environment for years after they’ve been used.

This not only eliminates a food supply for horny toads for a year, but also assures that ants will avoid the region for many years to come. This has a significant impact on food availability and the capacity of horny toads to thrive in severe desert conditions.

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