The Texas Horned Lizard – A Highly Adapted Species For Survival In Desert Environments And Defense Against Predators

1357 words - 6 pages

The Texas horned lizard, Phrynosoma cornutum, is a species in the lizard family, Phrynosomatidae, which has ten genera and a diverse group of over 125 different species (Hammerson 2007; Cossel Jr. 1997). Lizards in this family can be found in Mexico, Panama, most areas of the United States and parts of Canada (Heying 2003). Phrynosomatids range in a variety of forms, but are most commonly distinguished by their small size (less than 10 cm long), rough and keeled scales, spikes on their bodies, and the fusion of the sides of their teeth to the sides of their inner jawbones, known as pleurodont teeth (Heying 2003). The thirteen species in the horned lizard genus, Phrynosoma, can be identified more specifically by their flattened bodies (similar to a toad), small and coarse dorsal scales, camouflaged markings, and a short head with two horns pointing towards their backs (Oklahoma 1996). Of all the Phrynosoma horned lizards, the Texas horned lizard has the largest body and is the most widely dispersed species (Wikipedia 2007).
The Texas horned lizard can be distinguished by a large flattened body, two large spines on their heads, two rows of fringed scales on their sides, keeled scales on their backs, abdomen, and sides, a white stripe down their back, and brown lines near their eyes (Pianka & Hodges 1995). It inhabits arid environments and preys on small insects, but primarily ants (Oklahoma 1996). The Texas horned lizard is most anatomically similar to the Australian thorny devil, (Moloch horridus), which is most likely due to convergent evolution (Pianka and Parker 1975). Both species of lizards have different phylogenies and lineages, but appear to share common morphological and ecological adaptations due to similar habitats and lifestyles unlike any other lizard. The Texas horned lizard is a highly adapted reptile specifically designed to live in desert environments and to defend itself from predators of all size.
The Texas horned lizard exhibits morphological and physiological adaptions that have helped it survive in arid environments where water sources are scarce. It has developed highly efficient mechanisms for collecting water on the ground and moisture in the air and transporting it across its skin to its mouth (Map 2010). The Texas horned lizard has hinged scales, which are interconnected to a system of tubular canals located in the thin keratin layer of its skin (Sherbrooke et al 2007). When water or moisture comes into contact with the its scales, capillary forces pull water into the lizard’s tubular canals, which is then transported to the mouth for consumption (Sherbrooke et al 2007). The lizard’s hinged scales have also adapted a greater efficiency of absorbing water by increasing their surface area, which allows for more water to be absorbed and transported at once (Sherbrooke et al 2007). Furthermore, the lizard has adapted a “buccal pumping” mechanism in its mouth, which allows it to pump a constant flow of water into its mouth...

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