Coast horned lizard

Coast horned lizard. Image taken at Zzyzx desert station.

Hello cute little lizard.  You’re so cute and tiny, yes you are.  What a sweet little creature.  How does such a tiny lizard protect himself in this great, big desert?  Well, I can see that you blend in really well to your habitat that’s got to help.  All of those pretty spines reduce your shadows as well.  And of course, you’re a master at being motionless to avoid attracting predators.  What about those horns?  Are they good for anything?  Oh you don’t say?  Apparently there have been snakes and birds found dead with a horned lizard’s spike in their throat.  Hmm.  Okay.  That’s a good weapon.  I suppose that’s it then.  That’s all you really need right?

Unless you’re one of the four species of horned lizard that aims and  shoots a steady stream of blood out of their eye, like the lizard pictured above.  That’s right, the stigmata defense.  In Mexico, they call these lizards “torito de la Virgen,” which means the Virgin’s little bull, because they have horns, and they weep tears of blood.  Apparently this blood is pretty foul too, as coyotes have been seen whimpering away and rubbing their mouth after getting shot at.

Okay little lizard, you are protected.  But how are you able to find food?  What is it you like to eat? Ants? But I thought ants are usually found in big groups and gather to protect themselves.  Oh they do.  They just can’t get past your body armor.  And your immune to ant venom.  Huh.  Way to go.

Actually, their diet of mostly ants is probably why they have evolved all of these amazing defenses. Because ants have a lot of chitin in them and chitin can’t be digested, the horned lizard has to eat a lot of them.  That’s why they have that wide, big, fat, belly-to store a lot of ants.

Horned lizard fat belly

Horned lizard from above. Note the wide body shape. Image taken at Zzyzx desert station.

However, it does make it a little harder to get around, so they need something other than ridiculous speed to protect themselves.  Hence the camouflage, armor, horns and blood squirting eyes.

Worst case scenario, they can always give you the evil eye.

Horned lizard, front view

Coast horned lizard, front view. Image taken at Zzyzx desert station.

One other thing I’d like to mention, one of the biggest problems facing these animals right now is collection for the pet trade, so if after this you still think they might make a good pet, please consider this.  Ants as food are very hard to come by, and the lizards have a really low survival rate in captivity.  And they might just squirt blood at you.

For more information on our adorable friends, check them out on the University of Texas website.