NatureMapping Animal Facts for Kids

Short-horned Lizard

distribution map

Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglassii)
Also know as Horny Toad
Species Code: PHDO

What they look like: Short-horned lizards are small, flat, round lizards that have short, stubby horns. The "horns" are actually a crown of short pointed scales on the back of the head.

Like other horned lizards, they have a series of pointed scales along the edge of the body. The short tail is thin and pointed.

lizard in hand

The color varies depending upon the animal's surroundings, since their color provides them with camouflage. The color ranges from red-brown to yellow-grey. The underside is white or light gray, without spots.

Is it a lizard or a toad?

Known locally as "Horny Toads", these animals are actually lizards which are a type of reptile. They are not toads, a type of amphibian.

How big are they?

These are small and light weight animals. Large adults can be about 10 cm (4 inches) long, but many specimens are smaller. An adult horny toad can easily fit in the palm of a child's hand.

Weight: 4.5 - 5.6 grams (about the weight of a Nickel [5.0 grams] or a Quarter [5.67 grams] )
A yearling weighs only 1.8 - 2.5 grams. For comparison, a dime weighs 2.2 grams.

lizard measurement photo

Size: 8 to 10 cm (3.5 - 4 inches) - total length

Where they live: Short-horned Lizards live throughout the Columbia Basin and the Cascades foothills in a variety of habitats including sagebrush plains, short-grass prairies and open pine forests. Always found near patches of loose soil or sand for burrowing. This species is found near ant hills.

Click the range map to learn more about the distribution of Short-horned Lizards in Washington.

short-horned lizard What they eat: Short-horned Lizards eat ants, beetles and small pebbles.

Behavior: They are normally active between 60-80 degrees F. During hot weather, Short-horned Lizards are most active during the morning hours, with less activity in the afternoon.

They prefer soft, sandy soils, near rocks where they can blend in with the background. Short-horned Lizards can quickly burrow into loose soil to hide. They use their small claws for digging and climbing.

Watch out - They Squirt Blood!

If threatened by predators, horned lizards will squirt blood from the eyes. The squirting blood comes from ducts in the corners of their eyes and can travel a distance of up to three feet (one meter). It's meant to confuse would-be predators including birds, coyotes and snakes. The photo shows an adult with blood around the eyes.

Watch a video of a horned lizard squirting blood »


They are the only species of horned toads that give birth to the young live. Other species of horned lizards lay eggs. In the Short-horned lizard, the eggs are retained within the mother until the live young are born.

Short-horned Lizards give birth to 7-10 babies. The newborn are very small - measuring about 25 mm (1 inch) long.

Did you know?

  • Short-horned Lizard adults weigh less than a quarter. A yearling is about the weight of a dime.
  • They give birth to the young live.
  • Predators include snakes, magpie, ravens, and hawks.
  • Horny toads like to eat ants and beetles.
  • Short-horned Lizards will shoot blood from their eyes when threatened by a predator.
short-horned lizard babies and mom

Short-horned Lizard, female with her young

More information:

Horny Toads - Adopt-A-Farmer Project

Short-horned Lizard - Animal Diversity Web

Animal silhouettes available to purchase »

Home | About Us | How to Participate | Biodiversity Modules | Projects | Maps | News | Resources