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Species Spotlight

Greater Short-Horned Lizard 

by Doug Moore

Mention horned lizards and many of us conger up images of desert sand and prickly cactus. Though an accurate impression for many "horned toad" species, reptiles unique to Western North America, the Greater Short-horned Lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi, is a temperate mountain dweller in Madera Canyon.

The most wide-ranging of horned lizards, this species grows from 1 to 4 inches long, has short, stubby horns, and a single row of tooth-like scales fringing each side of its body. Primarily a mountain resident in the most arid and southern parts of its range, this lizard is most commonly found in the Santa Rita Mountains in relatively open terrain up in the oak and pine woodlands. More cold tolerant than other horned lizards, "short-horns" have been observed above 11,000 feet in parts of their range and live well up into the higher reaches of Madera Canyon in appropriate habitat. Like most horned lizards, they feed mainly on ants, but may also snack on other insects like beetles and grasshoppers.

Often standing completely still and cryptically patterned in beautiful shades of terra cotta reds, yellow ochres, browns and blue-grays that blend well with the local soils, short-horned lizards can be hard to spot until a too-close approach startles them into movement. Look for these fantastic lizards in sunny spots around ant mounds and loose soil between clumps of bunch grass in open woodland from spring through fall. Hatchlings can be found from July to October, so watch your feet!

Photo by Doug Moore