RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — With sharp twin dagger-like horns protruding menacingly from its spiky head, the Texas-horned lizard appears rather fearsome.

However, the horny toad, as many affectionately know it, is not really a toad at all and is quite docile.

Horny toads are reptiles and not toads or frogs which are amphibians. They are reptiles with scales, claws, and young produced on land.

They do have relatively short tails and often flatten themselves to hide from predators, which can give them a toad-like appearance.

When I was a youngster growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, horny toads were common in most towns, but over the years have become scarce.

Their habitat has been lost to development, while plenty of them have been flattened by cars. Also, agricultural and suburban insecticides have decimated their favorite food, the harvester ant.

The introduction of invasive fire ants from South America, which arrived in Texas in the 1950s, has contributed to the horned lizard’s demise as these aggressive ants can swarm and kill defenseless reptiles.

Texas horned lizards were once so numerous they were captured by the thousands and lost to the pet trade. By the time the state legislature passed a law in 1967 making it illegal to collect them, the popular reptiles were already on a steep decline.

Despite their formidable appearance, the horned lizard is also frequent prey of roadrunners and hawks that find them quite palatable. Horns, scales, and all.

Their main defense is their camouflage, but they can scamper away quickly when threatened.

The Texas horned lizard became the state’s official reptile in 1993, and while the curious critters will never be as numerous as they once were, they continue to survive on tracts of protected lands in the Rio Grande Valley such as Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.