Desert Horned Lizard

The Desert Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma platyrhinos, is native to western North America. Two subspecies are recognized. The Northern Desert Horned Lizard is found in Idaho, Utah, Nevada and parts of Montana. The Southern Desert Horned Lizard is commonly found in southern Utah and Nevada to southeast California, western Arizona and northern Baja California.

Desert Horned Lizards range in size from three to five inches long. They have a distinctive flat-body with one row of fringed scales down the sides. They have one row of slightly enlarged scales on each side of the throat. Colors can be variable and generally blend in with the color of the surrounding soil, but they usually have a beige, tan or reddish dorsum with contrasting, wavy blotches of darker color.

They have two dark blotches on the neck that are very prominent and are bordered subsequently by a light white or gray color. They also have pointed scales on the dorsum (back) of the body. Juveniles are similar to adults, but have shorter and less-pronounced cranial spines. Desert Horned Lizards have horns that are longer than they are wide at the base, which isn’t true for their congener, the Short-horned lizard. They are sometimes referred to as “Horned” or “Horny Toads”, although they are not toads.

Desert horned lizards prey primarily on ants, but are also known to prey on other slow-moving insects such as beetles, as well as spiders and some plant material. They can often be found in the vicinity of ant hills, where they sit and wait for ants to pass by. When they find an area of soft sand, they usually shake themselves vigorously, throwing sand over their backs and leaving only their head exposed. This allows them to hide from predators and await their unsuspecting prey.

They are generally a gentle species, but have been known to try to push their cranial spines into the hand while held. If provoked, they hiss and threaten to bite. When excited, they puff themselves up with air, similar to the way a Chuckwalla does, making themselves look bigger. If spotted near a bush, they will dash into it in an attempt to find cover from any threat. If threatened, they have been known to squirt blood from their eyes as far as 5 feet.