Desert Horned Lizard Fact File

Phrynosoma platyrhinos








Wild 8 years

Captive 8 years



Insects, Ants

Conservation Status


Least Concern

The desert horned lizard is a small species of lizard found in North America. They are named for the spikes which are found across their body and provide a level of protection against predators.

These animals are specialist feeders which primarily take ants. To help swallow these without getting bitten they coat them with a thick mucus.

Females deposit their eggs in to a hole in the soil.

The population of the desert horned lizard is currently considered stable but these animals remain threatened by collection for the pet trade, urbanization and the use of off-road vehicles in their habitat.

Learn more about these reptiles by reading on below.


Desert horned lizards have a body which is slightly rounded giving rise to their alternative common name of horned toad. The horned moniker comes from the spikes which cover their body and point backwards.

Their scales are variably colored and can be gray, tan or reddish-brown. On the underside they are typically white with dark speckles across it.

At the end of the body is a tail which is thick at the base and tapers to a point at the end.

These spikes help protect them against predators by making them hard to swallow. They also break up the shape of the lizard helping them to blend in with the rocky terrain they are most often found within.

An adult desert horned lizard measures 7.5-13.5cm (3-5.25in) long on average.


The desert horned lizard is a carnivore. They primarily feed on ants. This prey is swallowed whole and is coated with a thick mucus before it is swallowed to protect the desert horned lizard against the sting of the ant.

While much of their diet is ants they will also selectively exploit beetles, spiders and other insects if they come across them.

They have a long tongue which they can use to lick up these insects.

Much of their day is spent sitting near an anthill where they will wait for ants to pass by.

Desert Horned Lizard


North America is the native home of the desert horned lizard. Here they can be found in Mexico and the United States. Within the US they can be found in the following states - Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.


The desert horned toad is found in desert and shrubland habitats. Much of their habitat features flat, bare ground with occasional shrubs.

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Mating takes place during the spring from April to June.

After mating the females will dig a hole in the soil in to which she can deposit her eggs. Each clutch may include 2 to 16 eggs. These emerge after a 60-70 day gestation.

Females may produce two clutches each year.

Sexual maturity is reached by 2 years old.


The rounded body increases the available surface area for them to warm up in the morning after the cold nights which they regularly face in their habitat.

Desert horned lizards are reliant on sunlight to produce their energy. They are rarely active during winter when the temperature is too cold for them.

When it becomes too warm they will bury themselves in soil or retreat in to a burrow.

Desert Horned Lizard

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the desert horned toad include snakes, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and birds of prey. When threatened it is rare for the desert horned lizard to run away instead they will freeze and try to avoid making themselves visible.

When spotted they may try to look bigger and tougher by hissing or puffing up with air.

If this is not successful they have the ability to ooze blood from a membrane around the eye which can hemorrhage. This mixes with a foul tasting chemical to produce an unpleasant taste for the predator and convinces them to release the lizard.

Desert horned lizards enjoy one of the largest populations of the 17 horned lizard species. It is thought to include over 100,000 individuals but has not been formally established. At present it is thought that this population is stable or declining.

These animals are threatened in some localized areas by urbanization, agricultural development and use of off road vehicles.

Some small amounts of collection for the pet trade may occur. They are difficult to care for in captivity due to their diet.

Quick facts

Desert horned lizards are also known as the horned toad.

Their scientific name platyrhinos comes from the Greek "platy" meaning broad and "rhino" meaning nose.

Desert Horned Lizard

Photo Credits

Top, Middle One and Two

Public Domain


iNaturalist user: nmoorhatch, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Jackson, T.,2011. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals, Birds & Fish of North America. 1st ed. Leicestershire: Lorenz Books

Burnie, D., 2019. Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia. UK: Kingfisher Books Ltd.

Hammerson, G.A., Frost, D.R. & Gadsden, H. 2019. Phrynosoma platyrhinos. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T89974770A89975571. Downloaded on 05 August 2021.

Hewitt, S., 2015. If it has to, a horned lizard can shoot blood from its eyes. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 August 2021]. 2021. Phrynosoma platyrhinos (Desert Horned Lizard). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 August 2021]. 2021. NatureServe Explorer 2.0. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 August 2021].

The Reptile Database. 2021. Phrynosoma platyrhinos. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 August 2021].

Boone, J., 2021. Wildlife Around Las Vegas, Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 August 2021].

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