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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Pygmy Short-horned Lizard - Phrynosoma douglasii


Bell, 1829

(= Tapaja douglasii)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Pygmy Short-horned Lizard California Range Map
Range in California: Red



observation link



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Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
Adult, 5,600 ft. Siskiyou County Adult, Siskiyou County Adult, Siskiyou County Adult, Siskiyou County
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
Adult, Siskiyou County Adult, Siskiyou County Adult, Siskiyou County
© James R. Buskirk
Neonate, Siskiyou County
© James R. Buskirk
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Great Basin Collared Lizard    
Two well-camouflaged neonates, Siskiyou County © James R. Buskirk

Pygmy Short-horned Lizards are covered with small granular scales interspersed with larger pointed scales on the dorsal surfaces.    
       
Pygmy Short-Horned Lizards From Outside California
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
Adult, Kittitas County, Washington Adult, Kittitas County, Washington Adult, Kittitas County, Washington
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
Juvenile, Kittitas County, Washington.      
This lizard's color matches the soil perfectly allowing it to avoid observation when it remains still.
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
Adult, 2,700 ft. Kittitas Co., Washington
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
Adult from dark lava rock habitat, Lake County, Oregon.
© Gary Nafis, specimen courtesy of Richard Hoyer
Juvenile, Kittitas County, Washington
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard  
Adult in hunting stance, Kittitas County, Washington Adult, Kittitas County, Washington  
     
Habitat
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Habitat Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Habitat Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Habitat Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Habitat
Habitat, forest clearing, 5,600 ft.
Siskiyou County
Habitat, forest clearing, 5,600 ft.
Siskiyou County
Habitat, forest clearing, 5,600 ft.
Siskiyou County
Habitat, forest clearing, 5,600 ft.
Siskiyou County
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Habitat      
Habitat, 5,900 ft., Siskiyou County.
© James R. Buskirk
     
       
Short Videos
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Pygmy Short-horned Lizard
On a sunny June day a small adult Pygmy Short-horned Lizard let me follow it around closely as it searched for food, running from one slightly-elevated perch to another, then raising up on all fours and cocking its head from side to side to scan for ants. When an ant was spotted, the lizard quickly ran to it, opened its mouth, and grabbed it with its big sticky tongue. In this video I have edited together several short feeding instances, with most of the running around, searching and waiting for ants to appear removed. More views of the same Pygmy Short-horned Lizard on the left hunting, feeding on ants, and trying to catch flying bugs. More views of the same Pygmy Short-horned Lizard on the left running from place to place hunting and doing what looks like tasting or smelling the ground. Every time I picked up a tiny Pygmy Short-horned Lizard and set it down to try to film it in motion, it ran away quickly then stopped only a few feet away, where it remained still until I went to pick it up again, even though there were small bushes nearby that it could have run into to hide. The lizard was not relying on speed to escape, it was relying on its ability to blend in quickly with the background, expecting that I would not see it.
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard      
Several views of a tiny juvenile Pygmy Short-horned Lizard in the sagebrush desert of central Washington, beginning with a zoom in that shows how hard it is to see when it is sitting still on the ground.      
     
Description
 
Size
1.25 - 2.5 inches long from snout to vent (3.2 - 6.3 cm).

Appearance
A small flat-bodied lizard with a wide oval-shaped body and scattered enlarged pointed scales on the upper body and tail.
Horns on back of the head are very small and inconspicuous, extending out horizontally.
There is one row of fringe scales on the sides.
Color and Pattern
Coloring matches the color of the soil and rocks.
Color can be almost white, gray, pale gray, yellowish, reddish brown, tan, brownish, or mostly black, with random white speckling and two rows of large dark spots edged at the rear with white or yellow on the back.
The belly is white or cream in color with smooth scales.
Male / Female Differences
Males have enlarged postanal scales and a swollen tail base during the breeding season.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Diurnal. Adapted to living in a colder environment than other species of horned lizard.
Most active during midday warmth spring through fall. Inactive during periods of extended cold or heat.
Burrows into the ground at night or goes into rodent burrows.
Defense
When threatened, this lizard is capable of running away quickly for only a short distance, and usually runs under a low bush or into a rodent burrow.
Its main defense is remaining motionless using its cryptic coloring to blend into the background and make it difficult to see.
It will crouch down low to prevent shadows that could make it easier to see, sit still to avoid detection, and will sometimes shake the body from side to side to partially bury itself in loose soil.
Diet and Feeding
Ants make up the majority of the diet, along with small grasshoppers and a variety of other small invertebrates and their larvae, including spiders, beetles, termites, flies, honeybees, moth larvae, and grasshoppers.

Although horned lizards may be desirable pets, captive animals normally do not live very long due to the difficulties of feeding them a proper diet of ants.
Breeding
Mating takes place in the spring soon after emergence.
Females bear young live, with 3-15 young born July to September.

Geographical Range
Found in extreme northeast California.
Outside of California Pygmy Short-horned Lizards are found in northwestern Nevada, southern Idaho, Oregon and Washington east of the Cascade mountains, and at an isolated location in British Columbia just north of the border with Washington State.

Most California records I can find are from Siskiyou County, with an isolated record from Lassen County. Due to the lack of records for much of the range I show on the map for Modoc County, I have included some broad dark marks at the locations of these records to show both how limited and how broad the range of this species could be in the state.

The University of Nebraska State Museum has a specimen labeled from Clear Lake, Siskiyou County, 1891. James R. Buskirk told me that Clear Lake was once part of Siskiyou County before it was partitioned and Modoc County was created. That would have happened between 1872 and 1891 and it is probably why the county listed is Siskiyou, not Modoc. Other than that record, I can find no records at all from Modoc County, even though every range map shown for this species in California (including mine) shows most or all of Modoc County (probably just because the habitat appears suitable.)

The University of Nebraska State Museum also has three specimens labeled from Baird which is a town that was once beside the McCloud River below Shasta Caverns, but which now is under Shasta Lake. I think it could be likely that these are either mis-labeled or they are actually Phrynosoma blainvillii (coronatum) as the San Diego Natural History Museum has a specimen from Shasta County that is from a location about 7 miles south of Baird, and that species is more likely from that area than P. douglassi. If someone inspects the Nebraska State Museum specimens, let me know what you determine. And as always, if anyone has any range information for this species that I lack, please email me.
Elevational Range
From 1,000 to 7218 ft. (300 - 2200 m). elevation. (Maximum elevation record from Lake County, Oregon - Megan E. Lahti Herpetological Review 38(4), 2007).

Habitat
Open rocky or sandy flats, sagebrush and bunch grass plains, pinyon juniper woodlands, open pine forests.
Prefers areas with loose soil for burrowing.

Notes on Taxonomy
Formerly Phrynosoma douglasii douglasii, until recognized as a full species in 1997.

Leache and McGuire (2006, Molecular Phylog. Evolution 39:628-644) named four subclades of Phrynosoma - 3 in our area: Anota, Doliosaurus, and Tapaja.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
None
Taxonomy
Family Phrynosomatidae Zebra-tailed, Earless, Fringe-toed, Spiny, Tree, Side-blotched, and Horned Lizards Fitzinger, 1843
Genus Phrynosoma Horned Lizards Wiegmann, 1828
Species

douglasii Pygmy Short-horned Lizard Bell, 1829
Original Description
Phrynosoma douglasii - (Bell, 1833) - Trans. Linn. Soc. London, Vol. 16, p. 105, pl. 10

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Phrynosoma - Greek - phrynos - toad, and soma - body. Refers to the squat, toad-like appearance.
douglasii
- honors David Douglas.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Northwestern Short-horned Lizard
Pygmy Horned Lizard
"Horny Toad," "Horned Toad"

Phrynosoma douglasii douglasii

Related or Similar California Lizards
Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum - Southern Desert Horned Lizard
Phrynosoma platyrhinos platyrhinos - Northern Desert Horned Lizard
Phrynosoma mcallii - Flat-tail Horned Lizard
Phrynosoma coronatum-Coast Horned Lizard

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Horned Lizard Conservation Society


Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Jones, Lawrence, Rob Lovich, editors. Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2009.

Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Lizards, Lizards of the United States and of Canada. Cornell University Press, 1946.

Sherbrooke, Wade C. Horned Lizards, Unique Reptiles of Western North America. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1981.

Sherbrooke, Wade C. Introduction to Horned Lizards of North America. University of California Press, 2003.

Brown et. al. Reptiles of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society,1995.

Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.

St. John, Alan D. Reptiles of the Northwest: Alaska to California; Rockies to the Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, 2002.


Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This animal is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.


Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

 

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