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Texas Horned Lizard: The Blood-Spitting Ninja of the Desert

At critical moments, it can use its eyes to spray out one-third of its body’s blood volume, stay still, camouflage, and expand… The little horned lizard in Texas is like an octagonal warrior in the desert, working day and night to study how to fend off the enemy.

In the long-term competition for survival, animals have evolved various escape techniques. For example, toads self-destruct to survive, ants commit suicide bomb attacks… and the most surprising thing is that the horned lizard sprays blood to defend itself against the enemy.

The horned lizard is a strange reptile, known as the “Eight-Anagonal Crown”. It has thrived on the earth for tens of millions of years. Because it has lived in the desert of Texas, the second largest state in the United States, it has developed three kinds of magic. To defend themselves against large predators, they are particularly famous for their unique defense strategy of “spraying blood to defend against enemies”.
So what if you look ugly? The way to survive in the desert, it has the most say

As the birthplace of cowboy culture, Texas in the United States has always had tough folk customs. It is full of deserts, cacti and bars full of cowboys. In addition to these symbols of the “Wild West”, Texas also has a unique creature called the horned lizard, which has a ferocious appearance and strange habits, which is very suitable for the characteristics of this place.

The horned lizard is also called the crowned horned lizard. Because it looks like a toad, it is also called the “horned toad”. It is mainly distributed in California, Texas and Mexico in the southwestern United States. It is extremely inconspicuous in the desert.

The origin of the horned lizard can be traced back to 15 million years ago, making it one of the oldest living animals in the world. The horned lizard is small in size, with the shortest body length being less than 7.5 cm and the longest being no more than 12 cm. In the long process of evolution, they gradually evolved an appearance that is more suitable for survival: a flat, oval body, which is good for absorbing the heat of the sun; sword-shaped thorns around the head like shrub thorns, which help to hide better. And camouflage; the sides of the body are covered with pointed lining scales, which not only assist in camouflage in the environment, but also help in digging holes. The horned lizard’s nostrils have a natural advantage. The membrane growing inside can prevent sand and soil from entering the nasal cavity. Importantly, horned lizards have a body color similar to that of the sand. From a distance, they blend in with the desert, making it difficult for predators to find their traces.

The body structure of horned lizards differs from other lizards. Ordinary lizards tend to have their tails broken off, but the tail of the horned lizard has a special structure, with a thick and flat shape and a sharp end, which is very strong and difficult to break. Strangely, horned lizards have a super-large belly that accounts for 15% of their body weight, which allows them to hold a large number of eggs and even give birth to 48 offspring at a time.

There are many types of horned lizards, and they live not only in hot and dry sandy environments, but also in mountainous areas with an altitude of about 900 meters, but generally speaking, they are all dry places. So when it comes to survival in the desert, horned lizards have the most say. Crawling in the desert, the spines on the horned lizard’s body dig like a hoe and pile up the sand on its back. After digging out the hole, it dives into the sand, leaving only its head exposed, waiting for prey. However, horned lizards cannot move freely all the time. They are cold-blooded animals. When the temperature is high during the day or low at night, they need to hide in the sand to maintain their body temperature. They will only go out when the temperature is suitable.

As well-known anteaters, horned lizards have extremely picky eating habits. Usually, after finding an ant habitat, they will guard the entrance of the hole. Once the ant appears, they will wrap the ant in mucus secreted by special cells and then swallow it. An 8 cm long horned lizard can eat hundreds of ants a day. In addition, they also have a unique way of collecting water: the scales covering their bodies not only prevent the loss of water in the body, but also form tiny water pipes, using the capillary principle to deliver water to their mouths.
The survival wisdom of the bottom is the best strategy, and the bottom of the cauldron is drained to kill the enemy.

Even though they look ferocious, horned lizards are still weak animals at the bottom of the food chain in the desert. Facing various powerful predators, they have had to evolve a variety of defense mechanisms to avoid becoming a meal for their enemies. The best and easiest way to deal with a dangerous living environment is to do your best not to be discovered by the enemy, so “disguise” becomes the horned lizard’s first line of defense.

The body color of horned lizards can change with the changes in hot and cold seasons. The body color is lighter when the weather is hot and the body color is darker when the weather is cold. In this way, they adjust the extent to which they absorb sunlight heat. Similarly, the body color that is highly consistent with the tone of the desert environment is also the natural protective color of the horned lizard. For example, the thorns on its body look very much like the dead thorns of plants, and blend well into brown bushes or mottled gray mud. When the sun is shining, these spines can also break up the shadows on the ground, making the camouflage look more realistic.

In a difficult living environment, horned lizards have also evolved a more advanced mimicry ability: changing their own color and shape by observing the color of the surrounding environment and plants. When they lie motionless in the desert, they are almost impossible to spot. This is very effective against large predators. This ability preserves the horned lizard’s physical strength to the greatest extent, and can also confuse the prey and wait for it to come. Many carnivores, such as snakes, capture prey by sensing the animal’s movement and temperature. At this time, the horned lizard’s “still art” greatly increases the difficulty of the enemy’s hunting.

Of course, static cannot cope with all situations. If a predator approaches, the horned lizard needs to determine the type of enemy and then decide how to resist. Experiments have shown that horned lizards can even distinguish types of snakes better than humans. For example, facing the whip snake, which is famous for its lightning speed, and the horned lizard, which has a short head, short neck and short legs, there is no chance of winning, so pretending to be dead is the best option. However, for predators like rattlesnakes that wait patiently for the perfect moment to hunt, the horned lizard’s escape is the best option.
In addition to the art of camouflage, the horned lizard’s own self-defense mechanism is also very complete.

Scientists tested and found that the horns on the horned lizard’s head are very hard, and the pulling force is more than 7 times its own weight. You know, the bucking force of an adult bull is only three times its own weight. The scales covering the body and tail of the horned lizard are important weapons for self-defense. Each of these scales is like a sharp dagger, and any creature that touches it will be stabbed.

If unfortunately caught, it does not mean that the horned lizard will be docile and allowed to be slaughtered. When both camouflage and immobility defense mechanisms fail, the horned lizard will raise its front legs, spread its ribs to form a back, or inflate its body to make itself as large as possible. This defense mechanism is very effective against creatures that hunt by eating, especially snakes that are common in deserts. Whenever a snake wants to swallow, the horned lizard will inhale to expand its body, and its hard scales covered with spikes will make it difficult for the snake to swallow, thus giving up the prey. After inflating, the horned lizard becomes like a balloon, turning somersaults and rolling backwards to escape the clutches of the enemy.

If swallowed, these spines on the horned lizard turn into daggers that slash the throats of predators. Someone once witnessed a fierce battle between a horned lizard and a rattlesnake: the ferocious rattlesnake rushed towards the horned lizard hiding in the sand and bit its head, but the moment it tried to swallow it, the horned lizard’s hard thorns penetrated into the snake’s throat. The barb-like scales are like fishing barbs. The more the snake struggles, the bigger the wound becomes. The rattlesnake, which is in unbearable pain, is unable to save its prey if it wants to spit it out. In the end, the horned lizard narrowly escaped death and the rattlesnake died of blood.
Proactively perform cerebral hemorrhage? Performance artist who sprays blood to defend himself against enemies

In the Sonora Desert of North America, horned lizards have many enemies, especially canines and other cunning beasts. They seem to know that horned lizards can gain the upper hand in hunting with their sharp scales. . Therefore, these skilled hunters do not hunt by devouring like snakes, nor do they choose to bite with their mouths first. Instead, after catching the prey, they press it with their bodies or claws, tear and trample it until it is Eat only after death.

At this critical moment of life and death, the horned lizard will activate its famous self-defense method: spitting blood.

This is a way of defending against enemies by “killing a thousand enemies and damaging yourself eight hundred”. It is also a unique trick for horned lizards to defend themselves against cunning enemies. When faced with a very critical situation, the horned lizard will quickly raise the scales on the back of its body to form a spike-like structure. At the same time, it will start to inhale a lot to restrict blood from leaving the head, thereby increasing blood pressure and bursting small blood vessels near the eyes. , causing the sinuses to swell and rupture, spurting blood from the eyelids. The longest spray distance of this blood can reach two meters. Most hunters will be scared away when they see this weird defensive move.

According to research, before a horned lizard spurts blood, the body’s obturator muscle will actively compress blood vessels and suck blood into the cavity between the eyeball and skull. From a human medical perspective, this is a cerebral hemorrhage, but for the horned lizard, it is not life-threatening.

The special skills are inseparable from the horned lizard’s eating habits. It has been feeding on poisonous red ants for a long time, and its eating method of wrapping and swallowing allows the horned lizard to avoid ant bites while absorbing the toxins of the red ants. and converted into its own available resources. Therefore, the blood sprayed by horned lizards not only has a disgusting smell, but also contains special chemicals. Canines are not tired of blood, but they are extremely sensitive to the chemicals contained in the blood of horned lizards. Once the blood is injected into the eyes or mouth, it can cause them to be extremely nauseated or even vomit, thus giving up hunting.

If necessary, such spraying can be repeated several times, but it can only spray out at most one-third of the body’s blood volume. If it exceeds, it will be life-threatening. Therefore, horned lizards will not easily use this enemy-defending technique until a critical moment. However, this approach does not have much impact on the birds. Researchers have also tasted the blood of horned lizards. Apart from the spicy taste, there is no other strange smell and no discomfort. Through observation, it is found that this magical skill of the horned lizard seems to be affected by various factors such as season and temperature. As for the extent of the influence of the outside world, it remains to be studied.

In addition to becoming a hot topic in scientific research, the art of spraying blood to fend off enemies also has cultural significance. In Mexican and Central American folklore, horned lizards are worshiped as protectors. Locals believe that horned lizards can protect people from evil forces. In some modern art works, the horned lizard is a unique image symbol, and its “blood spurting” stunt has become the source of inspiration for many artistic creations.

The unique survival skills allow the small, slow-moving horned lizard to survive in the harsh arid environment. However, it has not escaped the influence of changes in the natural environment and human activities. In Texas, due to invasive ants from South America and excessive use of pesticides by humans, the number of local ants has declined. As a result, horned lizards lack the staple food of ants, and their living environment faces severe challenges.

On the other hand, the horned lizard’s docile temperament and strange way of fending off enemies have made it the target of some people to keep it in captivity. Because they originally lived in a special environment, their survival rate is not high after being raised in captivity. Suddenly, due to the interference of various factors, the number of this ancient animal that has survived for tens of millions of years has plummeted. Some species of horned lizards have been included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Animals for protection.

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