How to Care for a Horned Toad Lizard

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Horned toads are calm and gentle with no history of biting.
Horned toads are calm and gentle with no history of biting. (Image: Paul Lang/iStock/Getty Images)

Horned toad lizards are scientifically classified as horned lizards, but reptile enthusiasts call them horned, or horny, toads. These lizards are an uncommon pet needing proper care, which includes a home replicating their natural habitat. Horned toad ownership is not recommended for inexperienced hobbyists, and pet owners should research this little guy's many reptilian requirements.

Tank Enclosure

Prior to considering horned toad ownership, check local ordinances to ensure it is permitted in your area. Horned toads, a reptile from the genus Phrynosoma, are at home in desert-like conditions. To duplicate this lizard's home you'll need an aquarium. Accustomed to wide open spaces, a horned toad's tank should be at least 40 gallons for one or two pets. For proper heat distribution, and light allowances, your horned toad's terrarium should be wider than tall. Pet supply stores carry a variety of reptile specified terrariums, but if you are having trouble finding an aquarium designed for lizard keeping, you can build your own 3-by-2-foot rectangular enclosure with custom cut acrylic from your local home improvement store.

Climate Control and Light Requirements

Controlling ideal temperatures and meeting lighting requirements is essential for the health of your pet. Healthy horned toads need a hot zone for basking, and an opposing cool-down zone. For the hot zone, attach a basking bulb from the pet supply store. For the cooler end, purchase fluorescent or mercury vapor bulbs from a pet supply store. These lights provide UV spectrum light and the proper heat gradient. To monitor temperature, install two thermometers -- one in the hot zone and one at the cool-down zone. The hot zone should be a consistent 105 degrees, and 85 degrees for the cooler side. Lights should be turned off at night and an alternate heating source, such as under substrate heaters and heat rocks, are used to maintain 75 to 85 degrees for nighttime temperatures. Horned toads need eight hours of outdoor sunlight daily. If this is not an option, you'll need UVA and UVB light ray bulbs.

Stress-Related Health Issues

Horned toads have difficulty adapting in captivity and the No. 1 offender is stress. Purchasing your new pet from a reputable reptile retailer will improve his chances, but it is essential to minimize your horned toad's stress. Furnishing his home to replicate nature is important; minimizing noise and activity will help. When you first bring your pet lizard home, isolate his terrarium and cover the outside glass with paper, slowly removing this veil as he settles down. It usually takes a couple of days for him to adjust. Symptoms of a stressed horned toad include visible weight loss, (most adult horned toads weigh about 5 grams, or the same heaviness as a quarter) food refusal and anxiousness. Do not handle your horned lizard when he's new and then, only minimal handling is recommended.

Furnishings Food and Water

Fresh water, a proper diet and a variety of accoutrements are needed to complete your horned toad's care. Horned toads need to burrow, so the bottom terrain must be a porous lightweight substrate. White play sand is best and the most cost effective. Organic materials are poor choices and can impact your pet's digestive tract if ingested. Rocks and desert plants are added to enhance your pet's familiarity and reduce stress. Harvester ants make up 50 to 80 percent of your horned toads diet. Introduce only a few ants at a time until you learn how many he will eat in one sitting. Feed your horned toad in the morning and other than ants they'll eat mealworms, moths, waxworms, grasshoppers and crickets. Minimal amounts of fresh water should be offered. Mist your pet with a clean spray bottle, three times weekly, for hydration.

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