Herp Queries: Are People Still Keeping Horny Toads?

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Herp Queries: Are People Still Keeping Horny Toads?

The horny toad a.k.a. horned lizard, is best left in the wild.

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Question: Are horny toads still available?  I used to see them all the time in pet shops when I was a kid, and I had one as a pet. I was thinking about one for my own son if I can find one. Have other lizards replaced them completely?  If so, why is that?
Eric Upson, Newport, R.I.

Regal horned lizard


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Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock

The diet of all species of horned lizards consists largely, if not entirely, of live ants—a tough thing to provide in captivity for most people.

Answer: Horny toads (a.k.a. horned lizards, genus Phrynosoma) have virtually vanished from the popular pet trade, and that’s a good thing. Occasional specimens show up on specialty dealers’ lists for those up to the challenge of keeping them in captivity. But these herps are definitely not appropriate as offerings to amateurs who may acquire one as a first pet only because of its exotic looks.


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The diet of all species of horned lizards consists largely, if not entirely, of live ants—a tough thing to provide in captivity for most people.  I bought one in a pet shop as a kid growing up in New Jersey, and I watched it slowly starve to death. By the time I figured out that it wanted ants, it was too weak to eat. There’s also a fair likelihood that it wouldn’t take my local types of ants anyway because these lizards tend to specialize in only certain kinds of ants in their native region. 

The many species of Phrynosoma are certainly physically appealing, but they should be enjoyed in nature only so my own childhood experience isn’t sadly repeated needlessly. Bearded dragons sport a somewhat similar spiky look and make far better pets. Think back to the fate of your own pet of yesteryear and whether it thrived for you. While I can’t say for sure, I’d be surprised if you had it very long.