Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/April 1873/The Horned Frog



IN July, 1872, a sensational paragraph went the rounds of the papers that a "horned frog" had arrived at the Zoological Gardens; so I went to see it, and here, kind reader, you have a portrait of this celebrated animal.

In the first place, any one can see that the little beast, though carrying horns, is not a frog at all, but a lizard. It rejoices in the name of the "Crowned Tapayaxin" (Phrynosoma cornutum), from φρνος, a toad, and αωμα, a body. This is not a bad name when it is construed, for it really is very like a toad in general appearance. It belongs to a family of Saurian reptiles (Agamidæ), this species being widely distributed in Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America. Why Nature has made these little creatures so hideous, as some would call them—though I call nothing hideous—I do not know. The Moloch horridus of Australia is also covered with spines, and looks even more formidable than our friend the horned frog, and yet they are quite harmless, and will hurt nothing but insects. If the fly in the picture is not speedily off about his business, Mr. Horned Frog will snap him up before, as the Yankees say, "he knew what hurt him." Holland, the civil and obliging keeper at the reptile-house at the Zoological, took the horned frog out of his box, and, as he sat upon my arm, I made notes about him.

Imagine a large bug, about four inches long and two inches across, with a tapering tail, which he can cock up after the manner of a scorpion, or the beetle known as the "devil's coach-horse," and you have some idea of the "Crowned Tapayaxin." The body is very flat, though, I believe, he can blow himself out quite fat if he likes, like the frog in Æsop's fables trying to make himself as big as a cow; and he is covered all over with a number of spines, which are not unlike the spines on a blackthorn-bush. The edges of the flattened body are armed with a row of sharp prickles like the teeth of a saw; the head, which the little beast twists about in a Punch-like manner, is separated from the body by a short neck. Near the nape of the neck there are two sharp-pointed horns directed backward; the sides of the neck are armed with three or four shorter horns, so that the animal appears to have on a collar such as we see depicted upon the necks of wolf-hounds

The Horned Frog.

in Reidinger's splendid old German hunting pictures. The general color is like that of the toad, and he has a mottled belly, like that poor old toad about which so many "crammers" have been told relative to his being found buried in coal, stone, trees, etc.—antediluvian toads, "who swam about in the limpid streams wherein Adam bathed his sturdy limbs," etc. Toads, nevertheless, will stand a deal of burying; and so will horned frogs, for the individual whose likeness is now before you came by post all the way from Santiago, in Southern California. He was packed in a thin pasteboard box, and it is a wonder that he had not been smashed by the metal stamp-obliterators of the post officials.

By-the-way, curious things are sent me by post. Every week I receive fish of some kind or another by post: young salmon, young trout, young whitebait; also young pheasants, three-legged kittens, six-legged kittens, no-headed kittens; and they generally smell frightfully. The postman always knows my letters without reading the address. Sometimes live things are sent me by post. I lately received a scorpion, caught alive at Woolwich. He was packed in a jeweller's box, and when he arrived was poisonous enough to sting a mouse severely; and, once, some kind person killed a viper, and put him into a paper sweet-stuff box; but, during the journey, the scotched viper came to life, and had to be killed again by the postmaster-general, who wrote me an official note about it. I once heard of a pair of jack-boots being sent by parcels post. What next, I can't tell. Send what you like, my friends, only pay the postage, and, if you send vipers or scorpions, kill them first.

When at home, the habits of the horned frog are, I believe, very much the same as the toad's, lurking about stones, ruins, rocks, etc. Their spines, I believe, are given them for neither offence nor defence, but simply for the purpose of concealment from their enemies. The polar bear among the icebergs wears a coat as white as snow for concealment. It is exceedingly difficult to distinguish a sitting partridge when crouched down in a ploughed field. The tiger carries stripes like the jungle. The grouse is like the heather. In fact, most animals have coats given them to conceal them from their enemies, and it is more than probable that the spines of this little lizard serve for the same purpose.

I do not observe that in the so-called educational programme the subject of natural history is in any way introduced. This is, I think, a great mistake. Children and young people are naturally fond of animals, but they are too often brought up to kill and destroy any thing that looks, as they call it, ugly. I have known ladies scream, and even sometimes nearly faint, if they see an unfortunate spider, and then they go and kill the spider. Others are afraid of mice, frogs, and other harmless creatures. If these individuals had in their youth been taught how there was "evidence of the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator" in all created things, they would look upon these common ones with wonder and admiration, instead of being foolish enough to be frightened—or pretend to be frightened—at them.—Leisure Hour.