A Basic Horny Toad Care Sheet

I am putting this here after a exhausting search through Kingsnake.com i have come across a basic care sheet posted back in 2000 I have sent an email to the original poster and hoping to hear back from him shortly, but for now i will post his care sheet here.

New News I have recieved the OK from the original poster to put his care sheet on this site.

Here is the Message Board Post Complete
I just found this forum and spent the last two hours reading all the messages as far back as possible. I've been impressed with the amount of infomation available and I thought I'd share my experiences with a pair of Desert Horned Lizards I kept for over 8 years. They proved to be fascinating captives and I'm hoping my experience will benefit those with husbandry questions as well as providing some of the more experienced keepers with my breeding stories.
In the spring of 1991 a friend of mine returned from a dove hunting trip near Las Vegas with a pair of small (1.5" and 2" total length) desert horned lizards. I was a biology major and he knew of my interest in lizards and thought I'd want to keep them.

I set them up in a 60 gallon aquarium. The bottom two inches was covered with aquarium pea gravel. I then filled water to a level even with the top of the gravel. Over that I added silica sand (available from any garden/yard store)to a depth of about 4". Due to capillary action, the silica sand wicked water up and maintained a moist level of about 2" or so above the gravel. The top 2" remained dry. I guessed that since the Las Vegas area was subject to periodic monsoonal precipitation that they would require some sort of humidity. The cage was planted with several stalks of a succulent jade plant that grew in the yard just to add some color.

Light and Heating
The top of the tank was covered with a combination UV and incandescent hood. I think Zoo-Med makes something like this now. I used two Vita-Lights for UV and two 125 Watt spotlights pointed down at the substrate. A flat piece of shale was placed under one of the spotlights to provide a basking surface. The light fixture covered about 3 feet of the 4 foot long cage. The other portion was left open and consituted the "cool" end.

The surface of the basking rock would get to about 105 degrees with an air temp of about 95 at the hot end and 85 at the cool end.

Light Cycle
Timers were set to turn on the heatlights for about 8 hrs a day in the spring,summer, and fall (10am-6 pm). The vitalights were set to a 12 hour cycle during those months and came on at 8 am. The terrarium was placed on a work bench next to window in the garage of my home in Coastal Southern California. It seemed like this was the best way to give a natural light cycle. Early morning sunlight would hit about 6 am or so. Then the vitalights swithced on at 8 am followed by the spotlights at 10. They switched off in reverse order starting at 6 and 8 pm.

This seems to be the most discussed subject so I'll put in my two cents worth. What can I say? ANTS, ANTS, ANTS! I lived in Laguna Beach at the time and had easy access to colonies of Harvester Ants very close nearby. From day one, the two would lap them up one after another. Clearly these animals were designed to eat ants so that's what I fed them for the first year or so. I also found that they loved one week old crickets as an addition to the ants. I dusted the crickets with a vitamin mixture, I think it was reptivite if I remember right. Clearly, the ants were a hassle but they did so well the first couple of years I didn't' want to mess with it. I only wish I could have mail ordered them like you can today. I think the most critical component was that they be fed EVERY DAY. I noticed that if I went away for a week or so that they would show a noticeable loss of weight. I can't emphasize enough, feed often and feed ants. The second year I discovered they loved waxworms as well so I alternated those three (ants, small crickets, waxworms) and they always ate. I've noticed some discussion about mealworms in the forum. While they would eat them, I noticed that my Eastern Collared lizards often regurgitated when fed mealworms (excessive chitin?) so I never really offered them to the horned lizards.

Twice a week I would spray the basking rock with a plant mister and they would usually drink from the small pools that formed. I never used a tray of standing water for whatever it's worth.

Annual Cycling/Hibernation
Now to the good part! There has been much talk about hibernation so here is the long version of my results. About October 1st or so I would reduce the spotlights to a cycle of only four hours a day between 10 am and 2 pm. I changed the timer on the vitalights to a ten hour cycle so that they turned off at 6 pm rather than 8.
About November 1st, I quit feeding altogether and on about the 7th I turned off the spotlights altogether and left the vitalights alone. The temperature would only rise to about 75 at this point. The lizards spent most of the day submerged in the sandy substrate by now. At the beginning of December I turned off the vitalights as well.
At this point the cage would only receive indirect light through the garage window and the ambient temperature was that of the surroundings. Typically it was in the mid-60's in the day, and the upper 40's and low 50's at night. The lizards rarely if ever emerged during the winter.
About mid-March I'd reverse the cycle starting with the vitalights on for a ten hour cycle, then two weeks later the heat lights for four hours. The lizards would usually emerge within a day or two of the heat lights coming back on in early April. I would then resume the feeding and watering schedule. THEY ATE LIKE PIGS! By Mid April I had the lights back on the original schedule until changeover again the following fall.

What we've all been waiting for. The cycling wasn't really an attempt to breed them it just took the pressure off feeding them for about four months and seemed like that's what would have occured in nature so that's what I should do. Nothing happened the first two years but the third spring everthing changed.

That third spring one of them had identifiable hemi-penal bulges and was clearly a male. He started head bobbing that spring and pursuing the female around the cage. Clearly this pair was ready to breed. They both ate ravenously during this time and by mid May I began to see noticeable bulges of eggs in the female. I dusted the crickets every day to hopefully avoid egg binding. Like bearded dragons usually did, she suddenly quit eating. I place a broken half of a clay pipe on the cool side of the cage and lightly misted the sand underneath the create a moist laying spot. Right about early June I came in and female looked like she shrunk in half. Sure enough under the crock pipe were 12 eggs! The female ate everything in the cage the next two weeks and was watered every day and put most of the weight back on within a couple of weeks. The male continued to head bob but she didn't get gravid again.

I treated the eggs like bearded dragons. I moistened vermiculite and then using my hands squeezed all the water out of it I possibly could. I know it's not scientific with respect to water:vermiculite ratios but it had worked for the beardeds. I placed the eggs in deli cups with a couple small holes punched in the side and placed the COVERED cups in an incubator set at 82 degrees. I had used a fish tank heater to heat water in a covered aquarium to that temperature and then set the cups on top of bricks within the sealed aquarium to create the incubator. It worked great but I'm sure any type of reptile incubator would work equally as well. The eggs began to grow and finally about two months later all twelve hatched! They were about an inch and a quarter long.
Raising the little ones

I set them all up like the parents but used smaller wattage light bulbs as it seemed like the other lights would be too hot and dry them out. I started them on pinhead crickets as the pinchers on the ants looked awfully big in comparison. After about a week I started adding ants as I didn't want them to imprint on the crickets. They had no problem eating them so I cut out the crickets. After that I treated them like the adults including the hibernation schedule. They all emerged okay in the spring.

In that spring I knew I could never catch enough ants for 14 lizards so I took the babies (now about 2") to the area where the parents were caught and released them. It seemed like the right thing to do considering the amount of work involved in keeping the adults. I figured I only had to feed them for two months or so after they hatched and another month after hibernation before releasing them to give them a good head start. It was pretty cool to watch them scamper away. I released them next to an ant colony and they almost always ate right away.
My intention wasn't really to breed these guys but it worked out pretty cool. The parents bred every year after that for four more years. The last clutch was about 22 eggs or so and the hatch rate was about 90% for the five clutches. The spring of the 8th year I had to move and I finally released the adults in the same locale as where they were caught (and their babies were released). I would have like to keep them longer but I couldn't keep them in any sort of the same setup any longer and I couldn't bear the thought of them wasting away without the ants.

I hope this answers a lot of the questions so many of you have. They were awesome animals but I'm convinced they are best left alone in the wild. Nothing is so cool as a hike in the spring time when you can find one of the little guys. I think I was really lucky in my experience. My feeling is that the ants were critical to their health even though they would eat other insects. Their digestive tracts are probably set up to digest numerous small meals with relatively large surfact to volume ratios and things like large crickets just don't digest well. If you've ever fed small bearded dragons large crickets and watch them decline you'll know what I'm talking about.
As far as the breeding goes, I think the light and temperature cycling was the crucial component. Additionally, although they were in a terrarium there was no lid so air flow was pretty fresh.
Again I hope this will help those who already have these lizards to keep them successfully and those who are experienced with them to perhaps realized some breeding success. I could shoot myself in the head now for not taking pictures because the little ones looked pretty cool and the parents were pretty as well. Any questions please shoot me an e-mail. Better yet, just post a reply and I'll be sure to keep an eye out in the forum.

Good Luck,
Matt Kot

Special Thanks and Credit To
Althought I have not spoken to him I would like to thank Matt Kot, for his posting of this care sheet. This is his original post on Kingsnake.com and it has not been changed any at all.




Chad Davenport