Greater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi)

Horny toad image Courtesy: Jack Goldfarb
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Greater short-horned lizards have a surprising self-defense mechanism. They shoot their own blood at their enemies!

Greater short-horned-lizards are lizards that look a bit like toads.  In fact, they are frequently referred to as “horny toads“. Of course, they are not toads, which are amphibians, they are in fact, lizards. They are a member of the genus Phrynosoma (which means “toad-bodied”) of which there are 15 species.

Horny Toad Basking

Image Source: Tom Brennan

Their bodies are kinda chubby with short legs. They generally are a greyish, yellowish, or red-brownish color and have rows of pointed scales along its sides (see pic above).



Horny toads are usually found in North America and southeastern Arizona in which 7 sub-species have been identified.  They are mostly found in stony areas where loose sand is present.



They prefer ants and can be found monitoring ant trails, picking them off as they go by.

Horned lizard eating ants - Image Source: Patrick Berden

Horned Lizard Eating ants – Image Source: Patrick Berden


Self-Defense Mechanism

Of the many varieties of lizard in the family Phrynosomatidae, only a few have a unique adaption not seen in any other species in response to predators. They shoot a stream of blood at their enemies, from their eyes! throw_up_wide_eyes

Greater short-horned Lizard squirting blood at a threat from its eyes.

Image Source: Discovery Channel


barfing-smiley-emoticonIt is thought by some scientists that the blood may contain proteins that were derived from the many ants that it eats. The compounds don’t appear to be harmful to the Horny toad’s natural enemies, canines in particular, but the gushing of blood from their eyes is enough to startle them. It is also thought that the blood has a disgusting taste as well.



Female horny-toads lay approximately 2-16 eggs and are usually lain in August. These eggs are incubated from 50-60 days.  They bear live young, some of which may ride on the mother’s back for protection until capable enough to fend for themselves. Males are usually ready to mate within a year and females within two years.

Live young on the back of mom

Image Source:


Caught in the Act

Check out the video below featuring the horny toad in action:

Video Source: National Geographic Channel on Youtube


See you next time!! – RVF



* Header Image Source: Jack Goldfarb

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