It was a few days before summer solstice. Daytime temps breached 110-degrees, forcing life into the cover of shade. The anticipated end of day took on a heavy significance. I did not step outside until the blistering sun was down. Once thankfully behind the mountains, the world in shadow, I ventured out to watch the remaining quail, doves and towhees vigorously scratch for overlooked seed. For several days, out of the proverbial corner of my eye, I had noticed something run across the feeding area and into the rocks. It appeared gray at low light. I figured it was a mouse. Two days later the little stranger's head peaked out from the rocks. Definitely not a mouse! I was pretty certain it was a rare horned toad and I was ecstatic. The next night, walking along rocks in the feeding area, I almost stepped on her. Her entire body exposed, there was no doubt as to her identity. I leaned down and welcomed the Regal Horned Toad to Querencia Hill. Not that it hadn't been here all along, but she finally decided to show herself, camouflaged par excellence! This morning she showed up again and I grabbed my camera for this shoot.
There are fourteen horned lizards in the United States.
Most are in the southwest but they range from the Sierra Nevada into the NW, to the Great Plains, the Colorado Plateau, Chihuahuan Desert, west to the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and to the Pacific Ocean. The Regal prefers mesquite, rock and gently sloping desert hills. Well dang, that defines my ten acre Querencia. They like to eat ants and I have plenty. They can down 2500 ants in one meal. They catch them like toads, on their long, sticky tongue. The Regals are slow movers who depend on their camouflage, but when threatened or captured they squirt blood from their eyes, aiming at their predator's mouth and eyes. This defensive stream can travel four feet and can be repeated. I'm glad my visitor trusted me.
Indigenous cultures of the southwest have long held horned lizards in esteem. The Pima, Tohono O'odham, Hopi, Dine (Navajo) and Zuni believe they symbolize strength and possess healing qualities. Anasazi, Hohokam, Mimbres and Mogollon cultures painted horned lizard symbols and images on pottery. Navajo's refer to the horned toad as Cheii, the maternal grandpa of all Navajo's. They offer him water and corn pollen when they come across a horned lizard. They place him gently on their hearts in a ritual of protection.
For myself, I am honored that the Regal one has graced me with her presence. Mating starts this month, egg laying starts in late July and August. That's rainy season on the Sonoran desert. I'll be on the lookout for babies and watch where I step. I welcome horned lizard's strength and protective energies, right down to projectile blood spurts. The land feels different with this discovery, full of promise, as an untold story unfolds:
She arrived with the brutal heat of summer ...
Thank you Mary Scott, dear sister friend, who gifted me a photographic field guide to Lizards of the American Southwest.