Thursday, August 28, 2008

Getting to Know a Desert Short Horned Lizard

9/21/08 I've consulted with a herpetologist and this is indeed a Short Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) rather than a Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos). Short horned lizards are rarer around here than desert horned lizards, and the principal way to tell them apart is by the shape and size of the little horns on the back of their heads. Both species have very similar life histories, so the information originally presented here for desert horned lizard still holds true for the short horned lizard.

I was out wandering in the desert the other day and got lucky enough to come upon a desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos), my favorite lizard. My camera was handy so I snapped a ton of photos. Doesn't the lizard look like he (or is it a she?--I don't even know how to tell) is having a good time being a model? Look at the giant smile and the come-hither look of those dark eyes.

By the way, the desert horned lizard is sometimes called a horny toad, although it's not a toad at all. The name is kind of fun, though. I can see you smirking.

Okay, back to the lizard. The desert horned lizard is the widest and thickest of the lizards we have in our area. Most lizards are streamlined, but the desert horned lizard has survived just fine with its different shape. Part of the reason that it does so well is its cryptic coloring--it blends in with its surroundings so well. Another way it's different from the other lizards are the rows of fringed and pointed scales (spines) along its back and sides. Makes it look a little more dinosaurian. (That's probably not a word, but pretend you know what I mean.)

I was in a saline area, with lots of white salt and soil, and the desert horned lizard was white to match it. In another part of the valley with brown dirt, the horned lizards are browner. The black and yellow speckles look just like lichen, and if the lizard stayed still while you were walking, it would be virtually impossible to see it. However, desert lizards tend to try to run away to the nearest bush if someone approaches, making it possible to spot them. 

The two dark splotches on the neck are characteristic of the desert horned lizard. One of the cool things about this lizard is that it will partially bury itself in sand and wait for its favorite prey, ants, to walk by, and then stick its long tongue out and lift them off the ground and to its mouth and eat them.

Sorry about using the word "cool" so much in this blog. I guess it kind of dates me. I would be a different generation if I used the word "awesome." And the kids today would say that this lizard is "sick." Now back to the lizard--again.

Little baby lizards should be out and about now in August, hatching from eggs that were laid about two months ago. It will take a baby lizard about two years to become an adult, and they live about 5 to 8 years. Because they eat mostly ants and are picky about what ant species they eat, they don't do well in captivity. 

By the way, I almost forgot to point out the horns behind the eyes that give the desert horned lizard its name. But you probably already figured that out.

As the weather gets cooler (which will occur at some point despite the heat wave we're in), the desert horned lizards will eventually go into hibernation for the winter. Then they'll come back out in the spring, ready to pose for pictures. 


Anonymous said...

Far out, rad, groovey! How old am I? Neat lizard.

Anonymous said...


The Incredible Woody said...

Very cool that you actually touched that thing!!

Anonymous said...

I love learning more about your local inhabitants. Here in the Midwest, we have the usual animals, although last week, an alligator was found in our river. Our other wildlife usually can be seen on NIU's campus, where they migrate every year from the big city!


Anonymous said...

I think that's a short horned lizard P. hernadesi. Where did you find it?

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