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What's a horned frog? Explaining TCU's mascot... which actually isn't a frog at all. (It's a lizard!)

We asked the Fort Worth Zoo to school us on Horned Frogs -- and we learned that they have built-in defense mechanisms specifically designed to ward off dog attacks.

FORT WORTH, Texas — The horned lizards – commonly referred to in Texas as "horned frogs" -- that reside at the Fort Worth Zoo are currently hibernating. 

Meaning? Yes, TCU's mascots will be sleeping through Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship when the No. 3-ranked Horned Frogs face off against No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

"They are hibernating, so they’re sleeping right now," said Fort Worth Zoo Curator of Ectotherms Diane Barber. "They usually go down about the first part of November, and then they'll wake up around the middle of March."

Technically, the species' real name is "Texas horned lizard." Frogs, as a species, rely on water -- so they have smooth skin. Lizards, meanwhile, have scales. And, in the case of the horned lizards, they've got spikes!

"Texans always call them horny toads or horned frogs," Barber said. "Of course, TCU still recognizes them as a frog."

The TCU website explains how the Horned Frog came to be the school's mascot: "The answer goes way back to 1897, when the yearbook staff of the then-named AddRan Christian University was looking to name its annual. Football began at the university the year before, and legend has it that the football field was covered in the small-but-mighty horned lizards... Although the first few editions were lost, the TCU library still has editions of The Horned Frog Yearbook dating back to 1905."

And here's the thing about horned lizards: While they may hibernate for part of the year, they've got plenty of fight in them -- including one feisty trait that should strike fear in the heart of TCU's National Championship opponents.

See, Texas horned lizards are born with a natural ability to defeat (bull)dogs.

"They have special blood vessels underneath their eyes that they can fill with blood -- and then their blood vessels actually burst, and it squirts blood out on the canine’s nose," Barber said. “[Canines] don’t like the smell of it. Dogs will start to rub their faces, and they run off."

You read that right: Horned lizards have evolved specifically to combat canines.

"It's kind of interesting that these two mascots are against each other!” Barber said.

For Barber's part, it's her job at the zoo to be interested in horned lizards. And she actually has a major hand in protecting these animals. As Barber told WFAA, the Fort Worth Zoo is the first zoo working to breed Texas horned lizards. The zoo also conducts annual horned lizard releases into the wild at Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

"Typically, the females will lay eggs in June and July," Barber said. "Then we dig those eggs up and incubate them in incubators. Then they start hatching in July and August. We release the hatchlings come September and October."

Fittingly, the zoo also partners with TCU to study the horned lizards’ genetics.

"Now we have students to help us with our reintroduction project," Barber said. "They monitor the horned lizards for us. There's a lot of students now growing up at TCU that really know about the horned lizards, and [they're] getting involved in their actual conservation. So that's really exciting for us."

Less exciting for Texas looking to see horned lizards in the flesh at the zoo: The Mountains and Deserts Building where the Fort Worth Zoo houses its horned lizards currently being renovated, which means North Texans won’t be able to see the horned lizards until that project is completed at the end of this year.

No matter! For the time being, anyway, the horned frogs to watch will be on national television.

The CFP National Championship game between TCU and Georgia kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CST on Monday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. 

For more TCU coverage, visit wfaa.com/tcu.

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