Great Horned Toads!

I was out for my evening perambulations and came across this delightful little chap noshing his way through an ant colony.

I watched him for a while, walked home and got my digital camera, walked back — he was still there.

Found out that the batteries in my camera were dead, dinked around with them for a good quarter-hour, walked back home, got in the pick-up and went downtown to fetch some more batteries.

Went back to his ant mound — and he was still there. Ham.

I hear folks — some of whom would be considered horned toad experts — lamenting the disappearance of these little lizards from North Texas.

Thing is, I see them pretty much every time I’m in the boonies.

I tend to wonder if these folks are looking for horned toads, and just not seeing them.

This is a troubling trend that I see — by no means limited to prehistoric ant assassins — in which people just aren’t seeing what they’re looking at. I have no idea how many people walked past me while I was futzing about with my camera who are completely clueless as to what I was taking pictures of.

Too many people walking by, looking at Yard, Generic, One Ea. and not seeing the flowers … or the horned frog.

And yes — me being me — seeing what you are looking at is an invaluable aid to surviving. Don’t just look at Street, Urban, Dingy, One Ea. — see it: where are the ways out (both standard and non-traditional), how many people are present, possible improvised tools, ambush points — see all of this, but also see the other things. The things that speak to you and lift your spirits. Decorations. Colours. Horned toads.

I have walked down a street and noticed a single red flower in the midst of a hedge so green that it defies labels — that red flower in a green hedge a picture easily as soothing and uplifting to the soul as any painting on a wall of a museum. And people all around me walking by and not seeing it.

I wish I knew how to teach people to see rather than just look — I rather think I could make a fortune at it.



Idaho nachos

28 thoughts on “Great Horned Toads!”

  1. An ant-eating lizard? What a wonderful concept! I’ve got a nice collection of lizards and treefrogs living in a symbiotic relationship with my house: the lights from the house attract bugs and they eat the bugs. I wonder if the local pet shops would be able to add to the biodiversity around my house by providing some ant-assasins. Lord knows there would be plenty of food for them around here.

  2. One of the things I do to earn a crust is to teach animation.

    Now, I can teach the software, yeah. I can teach the physics of optics, of how light and shape work, how composition and the power of The Frame can draw the eye.

    But, as you, I cannot teach someone to see. I can try to direct them to the beauty and wonder of the world around them, but if they do not have the mind to drive the eyes to see, I’m not directing – I’m waving.

  3. Foiled again! According to Wikipedia, the great horned toad feeds on harvester ants, not the fire ants that are such a problem around here.

  4. And seeing instead of just looking is what separates the Holmeses from the Watsons.

  5. When we moved into our current place- 2 acres, unlandscaped New Mexico Scrubland- Spouse and I went out and took an amble around the yard.

    Fascinating! We found enough tracks and scat from deer, elk, bobcat, coyote, and even bear and mountain lion to confirm it was something of a local superhighway for the wildlife.

    The owners were flabbergasted. They never suspected anything bigger than a bunny ever visited their yard. And they’d lived there fifteen years.


    Since then, we’ve seen uncountable coyotes, two individual massive bull elk, and a black bear. Two sightings, but pretty sure it was the same bear both times. We’ve been here less than a year.

  6. I miss horned lizards – when I was a sprog {;-) like how I got that in there, LawDog? ;-)}, I used to catch them all over the place down in Atascosa County – since I’ve been here in the Houston area, I’ve seen NONE – if they were around here, I’d be breeding the l’il cuties if they went after fire ants ………………… saw a baby over the weekend {he’s just about a year old} – someone ostensibly keeping an eye on him apparently allowed him to play in a fire ant mound – poor little guy’s hands were a mass of bites ………………

  7. Teaching people to see rather thanlook almost necessarily has to start early. And it usually requires some rather stringent measures- that which has the possibility of pain tends to grab the attention.

    I don’t know how to make an acceptable method of teaching people to pay attention to positive details other than as a nice side effect of training people to spot the bad things.

  8. Wonderful picture, LD. I haven’t seen one in the first person in years. I most assuredly miss them. They were so common in NE TX when I was growing up it seems I always had a couple running around in the back yard.


  9. Seeing rather than looking, listening rather than hearing – lost arts in a society that rushes from thing to thing, place to place at breakneck speed.

  10. A few years back, as I was strolling around the grounds at Dinosaur Park in Glen Rose with some friends, I happened to notice some very small flowers that were growing close to the ground. I had my 35 mm camera with a micro lens adapter attached to a zoom lens, so I focused on a particular flower at my feet. I then got on my stomach so I could fill the lens with the tiny pedals of the white flower. My friends asked me what I was doing lying on my belly in a weed patch. I realized that the Lord made these miniature flowers for those who would take the time to stop, get down on the ground on their stomach and marvel at His handiwork while others would just be walking through a weed patch.

  11. Reminds me of the trip we took one summer to The Grand Canyon…

    As we stood on one of the observation points admiring nature’s grandeur I caught just a flicker of motion in my peripheral vision… Fifty or sixty yards below the rim was a family group of bighorn sheep taking their ease in the shade of a little outcrop…

    At the time there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people milling about on the path above them all blissfully unaware of the sheeps presence…


  12. Memo to self:

    Add horned toad to
    Condition Yellow visual sweep.


  13. I do not know how to put this exactly- there is a way of seeing patterns that tends to make anything not of the pattern jump out. Years ago I took a walk by a river in the brooks range. I came across a foot square boulder with a one inch spall out of the center. It was obvious someone had checked his zero from the slope across the river. I returned to camp and asked my Dad if he had noticed it. “of course”, he replied. “a blind man could have seen it” Yet this was one square inch of chipped rock in a vast sweep of wilderness. It was a change in the pattern.

  14. Well said – looking and seeing are two entirely different things in the same way hearing differs from listening. Nice photo, crisp with detail.

  15. That picture brings back fond memories. My mother has a series of pictures of my brother and I during our first encounter with a horned toad when we lived in Odessa. We were absolutely fascinated with them during our tenure there, and I haven’t seen one in person since. Neat little creatures.

    Thanks for the flashback, LD! I was in a fairly crappy mood until just now.

  16. When out and about, esp in my yard I am always looking to see what I can see. The other day I found the cutest little frog hopping around the pallets I have down as a “floor” for my outside work space. While visiting a place on the Snake River last fall, I spotted a snake that most people would never have noticed. I got some great pics of it.

    I’ve never seen a horned toad, tho my Grandma Mabel told a very funny story of her and a horned toad she found in her garden. I’ll have to write that one up sometime and put it on my blog.

  17. I was driving through a city park on the outskirts of Austin a few years back, and commented to my buddy that they sure had a large deer population. This gained me a blank look from my friend, who was looking out the same windows I was.

    I finally slowed the truck, and started pointing out the dozens of whitetail does that were laid up under the ash junipers no more than 20 yards from the road.

    He’d never been deer hunting in his life, knew nothing of their habits, and had no clue what to look for.

    Alas, drop me in Chicago and NYC, and I might not see the grifters and pickpockets until I have ’em in knife range…

  18. I didn’t learn to look for “bad” things.

    I learned to look because my parents went camping a lot. I had two choices.

    1)Learn to look for interesting things.

    2)Be crashingly bored.

    That said, my situational awareness is probably lousy, because I’m looking for tracks and lizards and not so much Critters…

  19. It’s a part of some jobs. LEO is one, paramedic or EMT is another. Often as I’m driving down the street with my wife, I’ll point out all sorts of “interesting” human activity. Hooker here, drug deal there, guy trying to break into a car there. She’s looking at the same thing I am, but she’s not seeing what I’m seeing.

    Same thing with patients. You might see an elderly man walking slowly down the street with a cane. I see a person with Congestive Heart Failure, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Peripheral Vascular Disease, and Pedal Edema.

    Why? Because that’s what I’ve been trained to do just as you’ve been trained to see people and things that just don’t belong. By trained, I mean you’ve pretty much trained yourself.

    When you’re talking to someone do you ever find your eyes looking over their shoulders to see what’s going on behind them? I do and it’s disconcerting to many people because they think you aren’t paying attention. You are, but your also looking around for other clues and possible threats. Multi tasking as it were.

    How about holding a conversation and hearing what’s on the two way radio? Bet you do that too.


  20. As a deer hunter, I too trained myself to see things I wouldn’t see otherwise. I don’t claim to be the expert tracker or anything… just that I learned how to spot a lot of wildlife in my area. And I see a lot of animals I wouldn’t see if I weren’t out there watching. And all the other animals can make deer hunting a lot more intersting than it would be on a day when the deer just aren’t showing up, like when the moon’s up at night.

    My chiropractor who is also a deer hunter… before I started going to him, he knew from seeing me around town what my problem was because not only had he dealt with it in other patients, but he also spots people’s problems much the same way ya’ll are talking about.

    I haven’t learned how to spot a drug deal yet. Not that it’s not around some places I go, but they’re good at keeping it out of plain sight to most people. And rightly so, they don’t trust me near well enough to say “here it is”. If I knew, I’d fix ’em… either I’d just testify to what I saw or make a citizen’s arrest which probably also means I’d testify.

    In my family… well, when I was a kid my Daddy taught me when we’re out in public to sit where I can see around the room and notice what’s going on… and I do. In fact, when we’re both there, we’re each seeing different parts of the room. In a way, I think it kinda aggravates Mom, but then, she says she’s paying better attention than I think she is. My sister used to get mad and accuse me of “making stuff up”, but that was before she married an ex-cop who told her a bunch of stuff.

    mustanger98 on THR

  21. Jeff Cooper’s Color Code addresses this well. Lots of folks in White just don’t get their money’s worth out of life.

  22. Mr. Dog,

    I enjoy your blog very much and am intrigued about your occasional references to scoping out one’s surroundings, especially as to such things as, “where are the ways out (both standard and non-traditional), how many people are present, possible improvised tools, ambush point…”

    I can manage how many people are present, but could use some tips as to how to quickly and efficiently analyze my environment as I walk along a Denver street, for example. I think it would be interesting if you could perhaps post a photo of a “target-rich area” in your haunts and annotate it with your observations. I’ll bet other readers would find it interesting, and perhaps useful, as well.

  23. To bring this to “higher education”, I have read that Colleges & Universities are built and staffed for two purposes:
    1. To get the professors paid regularly; &
    2. To teach the students how to deduce.

    Lost art, deduction.

    Nice picture!

  24. Being observent takes a couple of things. First is practice. I won’t happen over night just because you want it to. It is something you have to do all the time. ALL THE TIME.
    Second. You have to have the desire! You get to meet alot of people along the way that don’t want to see everything. Since my fields of study do not take me down the road of the human mind, I can’t comment any further on that.
    People that are very observent are that way because they want to be.
    Since it is a skill, you have to practice.

  25. The horned toad in the ants reminds me of other problems we are facing as a society – such as that pretty little yellow weed in your front your that your neighbor is intent on erradicating in favor of a steril sea of green that he has to prune weekly, feed, water and constantly fuss with.
    Or that sea of leaves in the fall – $10/6 for leaf bags that the trashman will pick up. Endless hours rakeing that sea up and bagging it, landfills filled to overflowing with seas of leaves – and then how much do these self-same ..people.. spend the next spring to fertilize that sterile sea of green so that it will grow quickly, requiring them to get out there and prune it more often – and they just sent last year’s free fertilizer to the landfill!

  26. The little bugger is actually kind of cute in a reptilian sort of way. Great shot.

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