Tiny Dinosaurs that Squirt Blood

I think I was about six years old when I began catching things called horny toads. Actually they’re lizards, not toads, and I what attracted me to them is they look like miniature dinosaurs. Unlike regular lizards, these have a round pancake-like body, and out the back of their heads sprouts a crown of horns. Their scaly, thorny skin has a mottled white and brown coloration, which makes them blend in with desert soil, and they have a big, soft white belly that’s speckled with tiny dots of black. All around the edge of their belly is a serrated row of soft little spikes, like a wiggly saw blade.

The most unusual thing about them is that they will squirt blood at you out of their eyes. This is absolutely true. I remember the first time this happened, when I was catching a big one that was probably an alpha male. He struggled mightily in my little kid hands, and when he couldn’t get loose (and I suppose he figured I was about to eat him) he folded his eyes back and ejected two jets of stinky red blood. It startled me and I dropped him, and he played dead for a minute or two while I wiped the blood off onto my pant legs. Then he blinked a few times to clear the blood away, and ran off. When I caught him again he did the same thing, but a lot less blood came out, and this time I didn’t let him go.

Years later, in a junior high biology class, a teacher was telling the class that horny toads squirting blood from their eyes was a myth, and I raised my hand and told him that, no, it wasn’t, that I’d seen it several times. He was skeptical even after I told him the story, and finally I had to show him a passage about it from the Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. I remember his only comment was, “I’ll be damned.”

I’ve always wanted to show my kids a real, live horny toad, but they’re pretty much extinct now except in isolates spots, and by the time I have grandkids they’ll probably have gone the way of their big cousins, the dinosaur.

From Tales of the Lizard Hunter
By Jerry J. Davis

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