Posted by: salamandercandy | July 10, 2006

Organisms that are Totally Sweet! #1: Horned Lizards

Unique to North and Central America are the crazy-cool little horned lizards, otherwise known as “horny toads.” Horned lizards are NOT amphibians—they just happen to share a superficial resemblance with toads. They also remind me of miniature anklyosaurs, which were squat, spiky dinosaurs. The fifteen species of horned lizard are all members of the genus Phrynosoma, which, not surprisingly, means “toad-bodied” in Greek. Ants are the primary food source for horned lizards. A horned lizard’s scaly skin protects it from stinging ants while it laps the insects up with a sticky tongue.

Horned lizards are slow runners compared to many of their iguanid relatives, and must therefore rely on an assortment of other defense mechanisms when dealing with would-be predators. Camouflage is one of the best defenses horned lizards have. Their variegated skin patterns blend in amazingly well with the sand and gravel of their habitats. I have been startled on several occasions when a horned lizard scurried away just before I almost stepped on it (unwittingly, of course). As soon as they stop moving, horned lizards are very hard to see. Most Phrynosoma species have sharp horns jutting from their heads. Remember that time you swallowed a tortilla chip without chewing it up properly? It scraped the inside of your esophagus and hurt like hell, right? Coyotes and foxes don’t eat tortilla chips, normally, but they might avoid eating horned lizards after a painful experience trying to choke down those horns. Horned lizards have another defense that makes them difficult to swallow: they get all puffed up by gulping air.

Last but not least in the horny toad bag-o-tricks is the ability of some species to squirt blood from their eyes! This above all else is why horned lizards are totally sweet. When I was a kid, I thought this was pure mythology, but it’s true! If sufficiently pissed off, some horned lizards can shoot a jet of blood several feet from sinuses in the corners of their eyes. Wade Sherbrooke—a biologist who literally wrote the book on North American horned lizards—has found that there is a noxious substance mixed with the ejected blood that is distasteful to canids (dogs, coyotes, foxes, etc.). This blood-squirting behavior is more easily elicited by canids—the natural predators of horned lizards—than humans. Maybe that’s why I thought it was a myth: there probably weren’t that many documented cases of horned lizards squirting blood back in the day, when I was a lad.

Here’s a video. Sorry about the commercial you will be forced to watch first.

Blood Squirting From Regal Horned Lizard Eye

Watch Video Clip

Another fascinating trick of these lizards is the ability to “harvest” rain by channeling water along the fine crevices of their skin towards their mouths. This is a valuable adaptation in the desert environments that many horned lizards call home. Rain drops hit the lizard’s broad, flat body, and the water moves to the mouth via capillary action. The thorny devil lizards of Australia—also desert dwellers—collect water in a similar way, making this an example of convergent evolution.

Lastly, I want to share these amazing and salacious photos of horned lizards (Phrynosoma douglassi) mating (you must be over 18 to view them). I came across these in an interesting note by Craig Guyer published in Herpetolgical Review (Volume 37, issue 1, 2006). Craig was kind enough to give us permission to use the photos here at Salamander Candy. I have heard that “face-to-face” mating is rare in the animal world. Among the few examples I am aware of are dolphins and other cetaceans, humans, and now horned lizards. Note: the bigger of the two mating lizards is the female.

Okay, okay… I have to say it:
Get it? Big laughs all around…



  1. I found one of these in Nuevo, CA about a month ago! I almost stepped on him in the garage. I haven’t seen one in ages, probably due to both increased human activity, and that they are hard to find. He was cute in a pre-historic sort of way, I really do think that they look like a dinosaur, or Godzilla. Anyways, I let him go up in the hills away from people so hopefully he will live a long and fruitful life.

  2. Snails, spiders and bonobos also mate face-to-face! Isn’t that lovely…

  3. How can a lizard change color to hide?
    What makes the skin change?

  4. Lizards such as chameleons can change their color using special skin cells called chromatophores, which contain pigment. Lizards can move the pigments around inside the cells, resulting in different color combinations. Incidentally, lizards often change color to indicate their mood, not to match their surroundings.


    • u idiot the lizard does it itself its a defense mecanisum

  6. I love your web site.
    I live in southern Texas and I haven’t seen a horny toad in years.
    They are all around my most favorite.
    I am a huge lizard and frog lover.
    I am always outside looking for a critter to play with and love on.(weird I know) but thats me.
    If I found a horned toad I would jump for joy.
    thank you for sharing your pictures.
    They made my day.

  7. I’m breeding 2 desert horn lizard. They are so so cute…

    • ya i know right they are so… cute :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  8. Lol, lizards suck

  9. wizard lizard….ur a retard its a natural defence for a horned lizard to squirt blood from their eyes!

  10. They only shoot blood out of their eyes if they are threatend. I can’t belive you would do that!

  11. Squrting blood out of there eyes won’t stop me from catching them!

  12. Thanks for the website – I love it! I live in western Wyoming and “horney toads” are quite common here. Your descriptions of their behaviors are written in a way that is

  13. thats cool how thay squart bloud i saw this web site becaus i am doing a project

  14. COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. […] (Image via salamandarcandy) […]

  16. […] (Image via salamandarcandy) […]

  17. cool coool coool =-[]

  18. wow lizards suck dick

  19. fuck!

  20. cool man wtf

  21. Brilliant site, tonnes of great info here. Tyvm.

    btw. Wizard lizard u idiot, that def. is natural

  22. I am working on a magazine and would like to use the 2nd photo (lizard in hand with blood). Can you contcat me and do you have a hi-res file? Thanks.

  23. I do love my fellow reptiles and amphibians…
    but blood being squirted out of the eye? Eck.

  24. I used to see these all the time when I was a kid. I was always kinda afraid they would spit blood at me. Never did though 🙂 salamander do you think you could email me about a lizard problem? He was in my gym room but I can’t put him outside because the ground is flooded and it’s still raining and my dog will eat him if I put it back in my gym room 😦

  25. lizards sucks ass!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. lizards are the best reptiles!!!!! but you are wrong. it is not a salamander. it is a dessert lizard!

  27. Lizards are great and i’m with reg that is not a salamander its a lizard

  28. All the horned lizards I’ve caught they have never squirt blood at me!

  29. I love horned lizards they are so cute but i have been sqiurt bye one on holiday camping they r lush i no only threatned it because i never saw one before and it looked diffrent i looked at it and strated messing with it and it squirt me in the eye and tat is so mean making them sqiurt you for no reasion !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i am an animal lover lol xx gonna be a vet soon
    first job next y3ear

  30. When i was younger i live in Arizona and these little guys were everywhere. You could pick them up and they would let you. I live in virginia now and you would never see anything like them here.

    • i like lizards and all have you seen a aligator lizard before

  31. I was visiting Bakersfield, CA when I was Eight. I found a horney toad and kept it in a box of sand. The next day it was gone, so I dunped the sand out. The lizard had been hiding under the sand. I had him less than a day and let it go. They are still my favorite lizards even tho’ I haven’t seen one in 58 years!

    • i have a horney lizard it has not barried its self so i am mad at it its name is horney

    • i tell ya i am going to ohio
      one time a horned lizared peed on my dad
      i hate biting lizards lol

  32. you suck

    • i love lizards and you suck

  33. […] sweet hoppin’ horny toads, there’s been a decimation of the kidlit […]

  34. Oh wow..Thats GRODDDDI! But Its SUPER cool….But I almost threw up!!!! hahahahahha,, good job though!! (: –Kirsti(:

  35. yeah i saw a horny toad just a few min. ago I was looking for a stick to play fetch with my dogs and all of a sudden i saw somin move so i went and lokked at it and it was a horny toad!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. I’m shocked that it seems no one who has commented on here can form a sentence. No doubt you’re all American. Your education system is shameful.

    • sorry but i do so who are you talking about

  37. 🙂 cool right and horned lizards are sweet 🙂

  38. yea yea there not tht cool ^-^

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