Greater short-horned lizard

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Greater short-horned lizard
Pregenant female Greater Short-Horned Lizard.jpg
Pregnant female greater short-horned lizard in the Mogollon Rim region of Payson, Arizona.
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Phrynosomatidae
Genus: Phrynosoma
P. hernandesi
Binomial name
Phrynosoma hernandesi
Girard, 1858

The greater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi), also commonly known as the mountain short-horned lizard, is a species of lizard endemic to western North America. Like other horned lizards, it is often called a "horned toad" or "horny toad", but it is not a toad at all. It is a reptile, not an amphibian. It is one of seven native species of lizards in Canada.


The specific name, hernandesi, honors Francisco Hernández (1514–1587) a Spanish physician who wrote an early account of a horned lizard, which was published in 1615.[2][3]


The greater short-horned lizard is often mistaken for its close relative the pygmy short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii ), which has the same basic body type consisting of small pointed scales around the head and back.[2] Until recent mitochondrial DNA evidence, P. hernandesi was considered to be the same species as P. douglasii. They are now considered distinct species with the pygmy short-horned lizard (P. douglasii ) occupying the northwest portion of the United States and extreme southern British Columbia.[2] When placed together the two are easily distinguished at full size, the pygmy short-horned lizard being much smaller. P. hernandesi is a highly variable species with different geographic populations exhibiting differences in color, pattern and size with some authorities describing five subspecies.

The greater short-horned lizard ranges in size from 2 to 5 inches (5.1 to 12.7 cm) in snout to vent length (SVL) and is a flat-bodied, squat lizard with scales around the top of the head, normally called a "crown".[4] They have a snub-nosed profile and short legs. The trunk is fringed by one row of pointed scales, while the belly scales are smooth. The color is gray, yellowish, or reddish-brown, and there are two rows of large dark spots on the back. When threatened or aggressive, their colors become more intense.

Females grow to larger sizes than males: females average about 7 cm (about 2.75 inches) from snout to vent, with a maximum total length of about 15 cm (about 6 inches), and weigh about 18 g; whereas males have an SVL of only about 5 cm (about 2 inches), and weigh on the average about 10 g.


Mountain short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi), Culberson County, Texas, USA (19 May 2018)

Short-horned lizards are "sit-and-wait" predators. They feed primarily on ants, but also take an occasional grasshopper or beetle. Often, they can be found sitting in the vicinity of a nest or trails. They are diurnal creatures being most active during the evening and burrowing at night. They rely extensively on camouflage to avoid predators. If provoked, some horned lizards can build up blood pressure in regions behind their eyes and accurately squirt their blood at attacking predators, which will deter canids from continuing their attack.[5] It is rare for horned lizards to squirt blood at humans however, reserving this unique defense primarily for canids (i.e. foxes, coyotes, dogs), which have a strong reaction of distaste to the blood.[2] Squirting blood has been observed in greater short-horned lizards, but has not been observed in pygmy short-horned lizards.[6]


The mating season for this species is in spring (May to June). They are viviparous, giving live birth: the female births five to 48 offspring from July to September.[4] The young measure about 24 mm from snout to vent and weigh each about 1 g. The young have no horns yet and are able to take care of themselves within a few hours; they are not able to fully crawl until they are a day old. Males become sexually active after their first year of life and females generally take two years before they can start reproducing.


Greater short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi

The greater short-horned lizard is the most widely distributed lizard in North America and occurs in the widest range of habitats: West into central Nevada, east into North and South Dakota, north to southern Saskatchewan and Alberta,[7] and then south into the Texas Panhandle to central Mexico. This species of lizard is mostly an arid mountain dweller living in the range of 9000–11,300 feet (170–3440 m).[4] It is the only member of its genus in Wyoming, which counts Phrynosoma as its state reptile. It is also considered an endangered species in Saskatchewan and Alberta.[8][9]


The greater short-horned lizard occupies ranges from semiarid plains to high elevations in the mountains. This species is frequently found in a wide range of habitats like shortgrass prairies, sagebrush deserts, and juniper, pine, or fir forests. The soil in these habitats can be stony or rocky but usually has fine loose soil or sand present.[4] The greater short-horned lizard is more cold tolerant than other species and is able to reach higher elevations and a greater distribution where the temperature is much cooler.


  1. ^ Hammerson GA (2007). "Phrynosoma hernandesi ". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2007.RLTS.T64076A12741970.en
  2. ^ a b c d Sherbrooke, Wade C. (2003) Introduction to Horned Lizards of North America. California Natural History Guides.
  3. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Phrynosoma hernandesi, p.122).
  4. ^ a b c d Stebbins, Robert C. (2003) A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd ed. Peterson Field Guides
  5. ^ "Horned Toad (Short Horned Lizards)" National Geographic Society 2009
  6. ^ Sherbrooke, Wade C., and George A. Middendorf, III (2001). "Blood-Squirting Variability in Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma)" (PDF). Copeia. 2001 (4): 1114–1122. doi:10.1643/0045-8511(2001)001[1114:bsvihl];2. JSTOR 1448403.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ Reptiles.
  8. ^ Endangered Species and Spaces.
  9. ^ Powell, G. Lawrence, and Russell, Anthony P. (1992). COSEWIC status report on the Greater Short-horned Lizard Phrynosoma hernandesi in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. ISBN 978-0-662-46037-4