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Reptile Walk

sky and clouds outside of Taos

Some days the sky is everything

Just a few yards down my favorite trail today, I nearly stepped on a great big snake. I saw at once it wasn’t poisonous. Between two and three feet long, a kind of speckled yellow with a pattern on its back. The reptile stopped in front of me, flicked its tongue a couple of times, and proceeded on its way. Even if I’d had the camera out, I might have let the creature be. We were having a private moment, after all, and it wouldn’t have been polite.

After that, I took the camera out of its case and hung it around my neck. A little farther along, a gorgeous horny toad* ran across my path and stopped inside a sagebrush looking up at me. I tried to take a picture, but the auto-focus kept fixing on the bush. When I took the camera away from my face to switch to manual focus, the damn thing vanished! I left the trail to stomp around a little in the dirt and look for motion at the edges of my vision. No luck this time, though.

Most people don’t know that horned toads, at least the little ones, can change their color in an instant. This one was small and showed some green and purple spots. They would have vanished in just a couple seconds with the lizard sitting in the dirt, but I wonder where it was before?

* See comments. West Texas in our brains.

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  • Pascale Soleil May 8, 2013, 7:09 AM

    Just a quick note to remind you that half the critters that you encounter are likely to be female. ;)

    • JHF May 8, 2013, 8:08 AM

      They certainly are! That was just lazy on my part. For now, I think I fixed it.

  • Ken Webb May 8, 2013, 7:27 PM

    The textbooks may call them “horned toads” or even “hornfrogs”, but in West Texas they were never called anything but horny toads – that is, in the days when you could still find them in West Texas. In the 50′s you could hardly walk across your backyard without spotting one basking in the sun. They were supposed to be able to hole up inside house foundations and live immobilized for decades without any form of sustenance. Oh, and that black liquid they sometimes squirted at you when you picked one up – it was tobacco juice, we all believed, though no one ever saw the chaw in the critter’s cheek or cared to ask how he, she or it came by the habit.

    It makes me a little nostalgic to think of them. Ugly and prehistoric as they were, they were somehow friendly seeming and comical – unlike lizards or snakes, which made you shiver or inspired dread. Haven’t laid eyes on one of them for 40 years at least. Thanks for the description.

    • JHF May 8, 2013, 9:18 PM

      Right you are, horny toads! That’s what I hear in my head when I see one. In fact, I think I’ll edit that.

      I’ve seen just a few here in NM, but consistently. The first time it blew me away, because I hadn’t seen one in so long. My best sighting was of a mother (?) with two tiny ones riding on her back. They were so small and perfectly matched her color. When the adult saw me, it froze, and the kids jumped off. Within a couple of seconds, the young ones matched the very different color of the rocks and dirt they’d run to.

  • Marti Fenton May 9, 2013, 1:20 AM

    So glad to hear that horny toads are still around. I guess there used to be lots of them in these parts, but I haven’t seen one for ages.

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