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Short-horned Lizard

Horned lizards are small, well-camouflaged reptiles, which are common in dry regions of western North America. The subspecies found in Alberta is the Eastern Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglassii brevirostre), which, at the northern extreme of its distribution, ranges into the southeastern corner of the province. In the past, little was known about Eastern Short-horned Lizards in Alberta. The most recent provincial review of the status of Alberta wildlife has assigned the Eastern Short-horned Lizard to the Blue List of species that may be at risk in the province.

As lizards go, horned lizards are very atypical. Rather than running, or seeking refuge in burrows from predators, horned lizards usually do not move a muscle, even when approached. These lizards use Camouflage to avoid and escape their predators, and their mottled, sandy colouration and spiny skin blends in very well with the dry environments they inhabit.

These lizards are sit-and-wait predators, dashing out and nabbing their prey as it wanders within range. Most of these lizards eat mainly ants, and have specialized teeth and a large stomach capacity for the digestion of this highly crunchy food item. Horned lizards are round and flat in body shape, with sharp, spiked skin and short legs. This unusual lizard body form renders them rather slow and cumbersome in movement, which likely helped gain them the name "horned toad".

Eastern Short-horned lizards in Alberta are relatively small creatures, with the average adult female weighing about 18 grams and measuring 7 centimetres in length. Adult males are considerably smaller, with an average length of around 5 centimetres and weight of approximately 10 grams.

Horned lizards move between heat sources and heat sinks to control their internal body temperature within a preferred range, a characteristic behaviour among lizards known as shuttling. These lizards often bask in direct sunlight (heliothermy) in order to increase body temperature. They may flatten the body (by extending the ribs), adjust their position, orientation, and tilt to increase surface area exposed to incident radiation. The gaining of heat from an object (such as a rock) has also been observed in these lizards. To cool down, individuals may seek shade, alter their orientation, narrow the body profile, and may even burrow in the soil.

Short-horned Lizard

Short-horned Lizard