Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue

Rescue, Rehabilitation, Release, Adoption.

Horned Lizards

The Society for Horned Lizard Preservation (SHLP)


SHLP Mission Statements

1 ) To protect and preserve habitat, and expand existing habitat through purchase, grant, lease, or usage agreement.

2 ) To enhance the scientific knowledge base, and advance the study of horned lizards using only humane and non-harmful methods.

3 ) To educate the public and instill in them an understanding and respect for wild horned lizards, and their unique requirements.

4 ) To establish and maintain a volunteer horned lizard rescue program, and to arrange for return of captured horned lizards to original habitat, or permanent sanctuary where appropriate.

5 ) To propagate horned lizards for reintroduction into suitable native habitats.

6 ) To develop and encourage sound and humane husbandry techniques, and, to promote the general welfare of horned lizards.

7 ) To combat the wild collection trade in horned lizards, by lobbying for an end to commercial collection of horned lizards.

Our Latest Rescues & Releases


Over the last month calls for horned lizard sightings are way up. It is unknown whether this is because the public is more aware of this website, or because numbers are in fact up, but some positive effects have been noted in the region based on the unusually wet winter and spring. This may have allowed more horned lizards to survive hibernation and avoid dehydration. This year we have taken sighting reports from downtown Oklahoma City (3rd report in as many years), Alvord, Sweetwater, Post, Big Spring (multiple sightings), and Lubbock (multiple sightings). Additionally we have assisted in the return of one to southeast OK, and to Electra Tx.


Tonight I drove to Bowie and received a late season rescue from a woman in Keller. 4 months ago her and her children captured a horned lizard in a cemetery in Throckmorton, and they attempted to keep it as a pet. This is an adult female of approx 2 years of age. She displayed lethargy and had ceased eating and defecation 4 days ago, despite being kept indoors and at elevated temps, so it was decided that she should be surrendered. Currently she is displaying symptoms of bilateral hypocalcemic tetany, and I have begun treatment with phosphate binders, soon to follow with Ca. gluconate injections, and possibly calcitonin therapy. Being an adult, this girl may have laid eggs this Fall as they normally do. Being taken into captivity soon after very likely could have caused hypocalcemia and nutritional secondary hyper-parathyroidism. She will be rehabilitated and released, at the same spot she was taken from, when Spring arrives. It is unknown whether she will be well enough to hibernate before Winter has passed, but her chances are quite good.

This is the most severely injured horned lizard I have ever encountered, which is also
still alive. She will no doubt be in life long care if she survives these injuries in the short term.

I was contacted by a man in San Angelo after she was struck by his weedeater. After seeing the pictures my first thought was that the best thing for her was to be euthanized. He had taken her to the local wildlife nature center where they dropped her in an aquarium and didn't know what to do with her. It was a weekend, and no veterinarians were available until Monday. After talking to me the man went back to get her the next day, and they literally shoved her back on him, saying she was as good as dead and they didn't know what to do. 

I still felt she probably would not survive shipping here, and euthanasia was probably the ultimate outcome within the next few days. Upon insistence from this man that she was responsive, however, and had been alive for two days already, I drove the 12 hour round trip in order to give her the benefit of the doubt. I felt it not unreasonable to drive overnight to give a horny toad a chance at life, and it was the least I could do before advising that she needed to be euthanized. Along the way, I thought she was not going to survive until I arrived. When I arrived I triaged her and gave her pain meds and fluids right away. On the return, I thought she would not survive the trip back. But she did. Once back home where I could assess the wounds further, I thought she could possibly have a chance to survive, maybe with a lot of assistance, but my belief was that she would probably die with 72 hours no matter what I tried. She had lost the left eye, left side of the upper and lower jaw, left nostril, the skin covering the left arm, and 1/3 of the left arm.  

That was 3 weeks ago and she is still alive. More amazingly than that, since arrival and medications, she has actually become more responsive and active. She stands on three legs, moves about, opens her one good eye, flinches when I treat the wounds, and she rolls right side up if left on her back. A horny toad on death's door usually is not this responsive.  

Currently she is getting daily subcutaneous injections of Lactated Ringer's solution, tube hydration of amino acid electrolytes, antibiotics, meloxicam orthopedic anti-inflammatory, and pentazocine for pain management. She is not being fed yet, until further assessment of her ability to eliminate wastes. Toxemia may take her before the injury itself, if there is waste in the bowels and she cannot eliminate it.

I resolved to let her show me whether she wanted to live, and she is showing me that she wants to live.

[Update 11/4/09]

I am saddened to report that Angelina has lost her battle today and died while I was attending her. I noticed in the past 3 days that she was taking a turn. I observed sloughing of dorsal and marginal fringe scales, which indicated that she was going into renal failure. It was her life, and I let her decide whether to stay or go. I gave only minimal supportive care and made no attempts to further prolong her life or revive her after this. She had been through enough. Angelina survived 36 days after the injury. Sadly, it was not the initial trauma itself that took her ( cerebral trauma, blood loss ), but sepsis or possibly rhabdomyolysis; a condition in which damaged muscle tissue releases proteins which are damaging to the kidneys. This meant she did have a chance, but secondary issues caught up to her.

The most tragic part is not that I could not save her from dying...it's that this had happened to her, and she would never be wild again, no matter what I did.

Above: "Saving Sol". The release of a Phrynosoma hernandezi ornatissimum ( Desert Short Horned Lizard ), shipped to one of our associates in San Diego for over-wintering and then release the following year. He was driven all the way back to NM and released in Summer 2008.


This adult female Texas Horned Lizard ( Phrynosoma cornutum ) was saved from a busy rural highway by a good Samaritan, 10 miles north west of Archer City. She had one of her claws stuck to the road tar. The rescuer and his daughter didn't know how to remove the tar, so they contacted me. They found another horned lizard down the road which had already been hit by a car and, unfortunately, was dead.

 I drove 50 miles to receive her, then removed the tar from her foot. She then assisted me with a couple of educational events in the local area.
After waiting to get a good sunny day on the weekend, I returned with the rescuer and his daughter to the location where he stated he found her. I located a few good red harvester ant colonies just over the fence, and she was set free once again!

About Our Horned Lizard Work:

Horned Lizards are one reptile that we at Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue know well. WFRR conducts surveys and records data on sightings of Horned Lizards. This data includes location, time of day, temperature, sex of specimen, size, and notes about the terrain.

WFRR actively talks to landowners in the area about the protection of Horned Lizard habitat and their food sources, such as the Red Harvester Ant. A careful scan of your driveway before pulling in, or taking a few minutes and going over the lawn before mowing, can save the life of a "Horny Toad". Think carefully about alternatives to insecticide also, before deciding to lay out poison for those fire ants, or on harvester ant colonies. These poisons may be ingested by Horned Lizards eating the poisoned ants, or you may kill the food source of the Horned Lizards living on your property.

Horned Lizards are growing more and more rare in these areas, and do not make good pets for many reasons, contrary to what your grandpappy might have told you about keeping them when he was young. They used to kill a lot of them too by keeping them, and far sooner than their time...but nobody recounts that aspect in their story telling. 

The Horned Lizards native to the Wichita Falls area are state protected as a threatened species in both Texas and Oklahoma. WFRR discourages the collection and keeping of Horned Lizards by unpermitted and inexperienced reptile keepers. We have previously provided an extensive caresheet on Horned Lizards to the Montreal Zoo by their request, during their SW themed exhibit, which included Desert Horned Lizards. Since that time the caresheet has evolved into a husbandry handbook encompassing 60 pages, representing the most that has ever been written, to our knowledge, on the captive care of these animals.  

If you have spotted Horned Lizards in the Wichita Falls area, or other areas of Texas, please contact us with information about your sighting. If you have known populations of Horned Lizards living on your property in the Wichita Falls/Texoma area, and do not mind us arranging with you to come out and have a look and a few pictures sometime, please contact us. Thank You.

Decline of Horned Lizards in Texas

The most likely causes for population decline and deaths in horned lizards are:

  • Habitat loss due to residential, agricultural, and road development.
  • Pesticide use, which kills horned lizard food source or poisons horned lizards
  • Imported red fire ant invasion, which displaces native red harvester ants
  • Agricultural and yard activities (mowing, discing)  which may kill burrowing horned lizards, who prefer loose loamy soil
  • Car strikes during morning or evening hours when horned lizards are basking on roads
  • Heavy predation from coyotes, snakes, and birds such as the roadrunner and shrike
  • Collection for pets, which soon die due to lack of husbandry knowledge  

The SHLP differs from other conservation organizations in several ways. First, we will never intentionally harm a horned lizard...not even in the name of science. Second, we actually have volunteers on the ground in several states who proactively go out and talk to landowners, farmers and ranchers. We work not only to save injured horned lizards, but also to rescue them from novice pet collectors, sometimes overwintering them, and, where ever we can we return them right where they came from. Some of these volunteers have driven across two states to return a horned lizard to the very place it was taken from. These are things that other groups do not do, because it is too "small picture" for them. They do not feel that the life of an individual animal is worth the effort...and in this they are short sighted.

At the SHLP, we believe that saving a species or genus from decline, is done through grass roots effort involving landowners and other people on the ground who care about theses animals. It will be done by involving common folk, and inspiring people by showing them the lengths we will go to in order to save just ONE horny toad.

Each individual represents the whole of them...and is no less important.

This is how we will save them.   

[9/29/07] We just received two new Regal Horned Lizard rescues from Washington. They were collected from Arizona by a hunter during one of his trips. After about 5 months, their food demands became a bit much for him to keep up with, and he wanted them to go somewhere where they could be cared for better. They are both female, and both a little underweight but not too bad. One is a bit dehydrated, but both are eating well and drinking. We will have more on them soon.


[3/06/08] These two girls continue to do well and have been in hibernation since late Nov. For Horned Lizards which had only been here a couple of months, in order for us to prepare them; they have hibernated excellently. Weight loss has been minimal. They will be awakened very soon, as Spring temperatures take better hold and we are able to find more ants for everyone to eat.

[Update 7/09] Mary, the horned lizard in the background in the bottom picture, died a few days after it was noticed that her appetite and other behaviors had changed. It was assumed she may have an impaction, and was treated as such based on palpation of a mass in the lower abdomen. She went into respiratory failure during treatments, and attempts to intubate and revive her were unsuccessful. Upon necropsy, it was discovered that she had kidney disease. She had lived here 2 years, and her age was unknown, though she was at least 4-5 years old. Mary was one of the most trusting and calmest dispositions among the horned lizards here. She was always a good girl. Her long time friend, Popcorn, continues to do well and is currently the heaviest horned lizard at the rescue, and will hibernate here for her third winter.

Bask In Peace, Mary


These four male Desert Horned Lizards came to us sick from someone in Idaho who realized he was in over his head and wanted them to survive. After a great deal of TLC, and antibiotic treatment for eye and respiratory infections, they are now healthy and happy critters who will be staying with us; unless their native habitat in Nevada can be determined from the person who sent them. Horned Lizards, like some species of turtle and many other reptiles, are home range specific and cannot be released just anywhere. From the time they hatch, they imprint on the terrain features of their home range and use these terrain features to orient themselves to the local food resources, water, and shelter. If set loose outside this home range, research and previous release studies show that they will recognize that this is not their home range, and will migrate away, possibly into trouble as they cross roads and such.  We have been asked this many times by the public, but no, these DHLs cannot be released locally. Their species is not even native to Texas.

[ 8/7/07 ] This is "Rhino [Horn]". He most likely originated as a wild lizard in the Nevada desert, and then was captured and sold through the pet trade at a Florida reptile show to an unsuspecting buyer. Of course the seller of this Horned Lizard lied to the buyer, as many dealers of Horned Lizards do, telling her that he was captive bred, and, that he would be fine eating only crickets. The sale price of only $20 gives away the fact that this is a wild caught Horned Lizard, and not captive bred, as captive bred stock of these appealing but rare lizards would go for much more than $20. This also shows the seller of the animal was not versed at all in Horned Lizards, or did not care what was best for them in the way of diet...only what was easy to represent for a quick sale. A breeder would have more concern for his animals, and know that almost all species of Horned Lizard are obligate eaters of specific genus of ants. Upwards of 90% of wild Horned Lizards caught as pets will die within days, to a few months, in the hands of inexperienced people. There is a reason even the legal species have not been widely propagated and sold in the pet trade; and that is because they have a reputation for quick death without specific dietary and habitat requirements being properly met.  

Rhino was intended as a pet for a young boy. After doing some research on Horned Lizards and their issues in captivity, and requiring a pretty strict diet of up to 1000 ants a week ( ants which are expensive to mail order ), the buyer wanted what was best for Rhino, and knew that right now he required more that they could provide. Now he will be given sanctuary here, in a soon to be constructed outdoor artificial desert habitat. After some quarantine time to be certified disease and parasite free, he will be released to live with the other Desert Horned Lizard rescues.  

We applaud the actions of this responsible Horned Lizard lover, who chose to give Rhino the best life she could by passing him on to more experienced hands, rather than shelfishly keeping him as an object of entertainment for a young child ( which usually ends up being a death sentence for Horned Lizards and other reptiles ). This, along with proper research beforehand, is the first step in being a responsible reptile keeper.       

[ Update 8/27/07 ]: Rhino is settling in quite well and is getting aquainted with his new neighbors, and soon to be room-mates. He has gotten his last dose of dewormer and only has about 2 more weeks to go for observation, then he can go live with others of his kind. He spends a lot of time basking on his big rock or watching the other DHLs, if he's not eating everything in sight that is...( he may only be looking in there because the other DHLs frequently have uneaten ants! ). The tank they will live together will be a little cramped for the 5 of them, but they will reside together a short time until the new outdoor habitat is built, or it's time for hibernation, whichever comes first. I usually don't hibernate new arrivals on such short notice, but he's doing well enough so far that he should have no trouble. It will be less stress on him too, since he hibernated in the wild last winter.

[Update 9/11/07]: Rhino has now been moved in with his fellow Desert Horned Lizards. There were some initial concerning looks between him and the other residents, perhaps because the others are a subspecies commonly from more northerly Nevada, and Rhino appears to be from S. Nev. or N. Az. This cautiousness appears to have passed however, and they all are getting along fine. He frequents the same basking and sleeping spots with them, and really cleans up what they don't eat.

In the following pictures: the boys all appeared exactly this way without being moved, together in the middle of the tank, when I went in to turn on their lights one morning. DHLs are very social. In the wild there are many observations which seem to indicate they may co-habitate in a den type fashion. This has been observed in captivity also, and they do love to dig dens. Rhino is the one in the far back left in the first photo.    

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