The desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) is a species of phrynosomatid lizard native to western North America. They are often referred to as “horny toads”, although they are not toads, but lizards.
This species of lizard has a distinctive flat body with one row of fringe scales down the sides. They have one row of slightly enlarged scales on each side of the throat. Colours can vary 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 posteriorly by a light white or grey 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 wide at the base, which isn’t true for their congener, the short-horned lizard.
Desert horned lizards prey primarily on invertebrates, such as ants (including red harvester ants,) crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, worms, flies,lady bugs, meal worms 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.
Found in extremely diverse habitats. The flat-tailed horned lizard occurs in areas of fine sand, while the short-horned lizard (P. douglasii) is found in shortgrass prairie all the way up into spruce-fir forest. The most common species in the Arizona Upland subdivision is the regal horned lizard (P. solare), which frequents rocky or gravelly habitats of arid to semiarid plains, hills and lower mountain slopes.
Geographic range & subspecies
They typically range from southern Idaho in the north to northern Mexico in the south.
There are considered to be two subspecies: the northern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos platyrhinos) ranging in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, the Colorado front range, and parts of southeastern Oregon; and the southern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum) ranging in southern Utah and Nevada to southeast California, western Arizona, and northern Baja California.
These lizards mate in the spring and lay 2-16 eggs in June to July, which hatch sometime in August. Egg incubation lasts about 50–60 days. Individuals reach maturity in about three years.
They are generally a gentle species, but have been known to try to push their cranial spines into the hand while held. 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. Unlike several other horned lizard species, desert horned lizards are unable to squirt blood from their eyes.
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