ADAPTED WELL TO LIVING IN THE DESERT by Ben Hanson

With temperatures hovering near the 100 degree mark nearly every day, some of us are wondering why we choose to live in New Mexico. People really arenít adapted to living in the desert very well. We overheat, get sunburned and many choose to spend their time under the air conditioner or in the swimming pool. On the other hand there are critters that are well adapted to the desert environs. One common animal that everyone knows about is the horny toad, letís look at this interesting creature.

First of all, they are called horny toads, but are really not toads at all. Their proper name is the horned lizard and they are protected by state law. It is illegal to willfully kill a horned toad, sell them within the state or take them out of the state. There are three species of these lizards in New Mexicoóthe Texas, short horned and the round-tail varieties. Letís concentrate on the most common, the Texas horned lizard.

Horned lizards are adapted to the desert and itís lack of water. Even their skin has evolved to minimize water loss. They get most of the water they need from the food they eat, but will drink dew off of plants or water from puddles if it is available. When it rains, a horned lizard will use its back to collect rainwater. It arches itself to funnel water droplets toward its mouth. They donít waste water either, uric acid is emitted in solid form, decreasing the need for water with which to flush the kidneys.

Horned lizards are reptiles and cannot maintain their body heat, so they use their environment. When the desert cools off at night, horned lizards dig themselves into the sand. It goes into the ground head first, oscillating its body until it may end up several inches below the surface. With sunrise, they come up out of the ground and bask in the sun to warm up. As the day heats up they spend their time shuttling from sunny areas to shady places. If the ground gets too hot horned lizards seek shady places or may even climb into a small bush. In the winter they hibernate.

Horned lizards feed mainly on large harvester ants. They lie in wait along ant trails and when a victim nears, they take a step or two forward, flick out their tongue and retrieve their dinner. A single lizard may eat as many as 70 to 100 ants per day. They might also occasionally catch a beetle or grasshopper. Ants contain a lot of indigestible material so the horned lizard has a large stomach in relation to its size. This way it can store lots of ants, but this does affect its mobility.

Horned lizards are more easily caught than other species of lizards because their flattened shape makes it difficult to move quickly on flat ground or through grasses. Also, unlike other lizards they donít easily lose their tail and donít regenerate a new one. They do have ways of escaping enemies though. They are well camouflaged so are difficult to see. The horns they get their name from also persuade some critters not to try to eat them. The spines can puncture the windpipe of a bird or poke through the neck of a snake. They rarely bite, but will hiss and can inflate their bodies to try to intimidate an enemy.

Then, when all else fails there is one more trick to try. They can actually squirt blood at their antagonist. A horned lizard can arch its back, protrude its eyeballs and fire a fine stream of blood. The blood can be directed forward or backward and may travel as far as four feet. They usually save this trick for natural predators, not humans.

Their amazing adaptations have helped the horned lizard survive in a very hostile environment. A place where people have a really tough time, even with the help of an air conditioner.