9 Types of Horned Lizards in the US! (ID Guide)
“What kinds of horned lizards are there in the United States?”
Horned lizards are sometimes called horned toads, and it’s easy to see why. With their plump bodies, short legs, and bumpy, scaly skin, you could easily mistake one for a toad if you didn’t see its tail!
But these interesting creatures are reptiles, not amphibians, and have fascinating characteristics that separate them from other animals. For example, they have the unique ability to shoot blood from their eyes!
Today, you will learn the 9 kinds of horned lizards found in the United States!
#1. Texas Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma cornutum
- 2.5 to 5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring can vary from yellow to reddish or gray-brown, with a light stripe on the back.
- In addition to the two long central horns, two rows of spiky scales, called fringe scales, line the sides of the body.
The Texas Horned Lizard is best known for shooting blood from its eyes to defend against predators!
These reptiles are even able to aim the foul-tasting blood directly into the predator’s mouth! Talk about biting off more than you can chew!
Texas Horned Lizards are found in the United States in open, sandy land without much plant life. Some cactus or mesquite may be present, but their habitat is mostly rocky with loose soil or sand to burrow in and lay eggs. They can lay clutches of up to 50 eggs at a time!
Texas Horned Lizard Range Map:
Almost the entire diet of the Texas Horned Lizard is made up of ants. However, they do occasionally eat beetles and grasshoppers.
These gorgeous lizards also make popular pets, and unfortunately, they have been released frequently outside of their normal range. Natural populations are threatened because of habitat loss, the introduction of fire ants, and pesticide use.
#2. Greater Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma hernandesi
- 1.75 to 4.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring is beige, tan, or reddish, speckled with white. There are large brown blotches on neck and sides.
- Horns are short and stubby, located on the back of the head and to each side.
Greater Short-Horned Lizards prefer to live in the United States in shortgrass prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their habitat is generally semi-arid, with long dry spells and infrequent, but heavy rain.
Greater Short-Horned Lizard Range Map:
Ants are a primary food source for Greater Short-Horned Lizards, but they have a varied diet. They also eat grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, and even snails!
This species is one of only two types of horned lizards in the United States that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#3. Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma douglasii
- 1.25 to 2.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- A single row of fringe scales lines the sides of the body.
The Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard is commonly found in the United States in rocky terrain with pockets of fine, loose soil. It prefers open plains with sagebrush or open pine forests.
These horned lizards are more tolerant of colder temperatures than most other lizards. They are even able to live in mountainous regions at elevations of up to 11,000 feet!
Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard Range Map:
Pygmy Short-Horned Lizards are almost always found near ants, looking for their next meal! Ants are their primary source of food, and they often lie in wait outside colonies.
Its primary defense against predators is to bury itself in the soil with a “shimmying” motion, moving from side to side until its back is covered in sand! Check out the video below to see how they do it!
#4. Desert Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma platyrhinos
- 2.5 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloration is brown, tan, reddish, gray, or black. Wavy, dark blotches dot the back and neck.
- Blunt snout and short horns.
As its name suggests, the Desert Horned Lizard prefers the arid climate of sandy flats and dunes in desert regions of the United States. Areas with cactus, creosote, and saltbush are common homes for the Desert Horned Lizard.
Desert Horned Lizard Range Map:
Desert Horned Lizards have an interesting hidden talent – they’re good dancers!
They often perform mating dances that display intricate body movements, including head bobbing, weaving, and tail movements. While some lizards use body movement displays as a sign of aggression, Desert Horned Lizards use their moves most often to attract a mate!
One of the easiest ways to find a Desert Horned Lizard is to drive slowly in its habitat in the late afternoon. They’re often seen sunning themselves on the warm pavement!
#5. Goode’s Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma goodei
- 2.5 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Nearly identical in appearance to the Desert Horned Lizard.
- Coloration is brown, tan, reddish, gray, or black. Wavy, dark blotches on the back and neck.
Goode’s Horned Lizards are ONLY found in Arizona!
They’re almost exactly like Desert Horned Lizards, and they are only known to be a separate species because of DNA analysis. So if you find one in the wild, your only clue to know whether you have found a Goode’s Horned Lizard or a Desert Horned Lizard is its location.
Goode’s Horned Lizard Range Map:
Like their close cousins, Goode’s Horned Lizards spend most of their time sunning themselves on warm rocks or pavement in their desert habitat.
#6. Round-Tailed Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma modestum
- 1.5 to 2.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring ranges from ash white, gray, or light brown to reddish.
- Body shape is very rounded and toad-like, with a slim, round tail.
Round-Tailed Horned Lizards in the United States prefer to live in areas with rocky soil, where they camouflage among pebbles and gravel. Trees in their habitat include cedar, mesquite, and ponderosa pine.
Round-Tailed Horned Lizard Range Map:
Though ants are Round-Tailed Horned Lizards’ main food source, they also eat termites, caterpillars, and beetles. Predators of the species include coyotes and birds of prey.
Round-Tailed Horned Lizards can match their coloring with the soil of their habitat!
That is why individuals can be all different shades and colors.
Its most common defensive strategy is to freeze and blend in with the rocks around it! This horned lizard even has a humped back and bumpy skin that helps with this defense.
#7. Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma mcallii
- 2.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Generally light in color; pale gray, buff, or light brown that closely matches the soil of its habitat.
- The tail and body are both very flat and low to the ground.
Flat-Tailed Horned Lizards in the United States have a unique camouflage adaptation.
Their extremely flat shape and coloring nearly eliminate any shadow they might create, allowing them to blend seamlessly with the ground!
Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Range Map:
The Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard’s ability to blend in is crucial since they live in open desert areas with little vegetation for shelter. Their main food source is harvester ants that also live in the desert, but they also eat other insects.
This species is endangered and has the smallest range of any horned lizard in the United States. Their habitat is threatened by human disturbance, especially off-road vehicle use and geothermal power plants.
#8. Regal Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma solare
- 3 to 4.75 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Coloring is light gray, beige, or reddish with a dusky band on either side of the body.
- A single row of fringe scales lines the sides, and the horns are connected at the base of the head.
If you spot a Regal Horned Lizard in the United States, you will instantly know how it got its name!
The row of horns on its head meet at the base, so it looks exactly like it’s wearing a crown! Honestly, I see a Disney movie in their future!
Regal Horned Lizard Range Map:
In addition, the Regal Horned Lizard is the largest horned lizard in the United States! Its wide, long body and very long horns make it one of the most intimidating lizards as well. Its appearance seems to clearly say, “Stay away from me!”
Like its ferocious appearance isn’t enough, it can also shoot blood from its eyelids into a potential predator’s mouth. This is NOT a lizard you want to mess with!
#9. Coast Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma blainvillii
- 2.5 to 4.5 inches long from snout to vent. (Length does not include the tail)
- Two rows of pointed fringe scales line either side of the body.
- Coloring is yellow to brown, reddish, or gray with dark, wavy lines.
The Coast Horned Lizard is found ONLY in California!
It tolerates a wide variety of habitats, but its range is limited because of urbanization and farming. Its main requirements are open lowlands with plenty of sunlight for basking, loose soil for burrowing, and plenty of insects to eat.
Coast Horned Lizard Range Map:
Interestingly, an invasive ant species from Argentina is causing a population decline here in the United States. The Coast Horned Lizard is a bit of a picky eater and doesn’t like the taste of this new species! These Argentine ants are taking over, making the tastier native ants hard to find.
The Coast Horned Lizard is an expert at blending into its surroundings!
Their coloring and spiky scales help them blend so well with the surrounding soil that they’re almost impossible to spot!
Do you need additional help identifying horned lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these horned lizards have you seen in the United States?
Leave a comment below!