Species group: Horned Lizards
Other common names: Horned Toad; Horny Toad
Scientific name: Phrynosoma platyrhinos
Desert Horned Lizards (DHL), aka horny toads are truly fun to keep and watch. They have a unique burrowing technique, stay small, and colonize readily.
The Desert Horned Lizard is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, where they are desert ground dwellers. Horny Toads burrow into loose sand by wiggling back and forth while throwing sand over their backs using the spines down the sides of their torso. This is a quick process, taking less than 20 seconds for him to become invisible. Many reptile keepers refuse to use sand as substrate due to the danger of ingestion, but these creatures need sand to feel secure.
Appearance / health:
Desert Horned Lizards are dime sized at hatching, and 4-4.5 inches snout to tail tip when mature. The Desert Horned Lizard has an oval-shaped flattened body. The color of the Desert Horned Lizard depends on its location. If they are in desert sand the color markings range from pale tan to medium brownish red. The ones that are from volcanic sand are mostly black with dark brown marks along their back.
Phrynosoma platyrhinos have one row of spiny scales along the sides of the body and neck. They also have pointed scales on the back. The horns at the back of the neck are longer than wide at the base.
Behavior / temperament:
Desert Horned Lizards are diurnal. When resting or sleeping, they dig themselves into the sand to cover their bodies leaving the top of the head and eyes above ground. They are shy and will immediately dash into hiding when startled. When provoked or threatened, they hiss. When handled, they inflate their bodies to look bigger and poke the handler with their horns. These lizards do not squirt “blood” from their eyes as some other Horned Lizards do.
Desert Horned Lizards are best housed in a dry, terrestrial type terrarium decorated with stones, and driftwood or dried root.
Your DHL will need a habitat that emulates their natural environment as much as possible. Temps, lighting, humidity and substrate must mimic the lowland desert.
Desert UVB is a necessity. Daytime temps should be 120 for basking with a gradient across the habitat down to 85. Night temps can go down to about 70, but below 65 will cause the lizards to begin to hibernate. I like Exo Terra’s Solar Glo all-in-one, but there are many on the market now.
A 40-gallon low tank works well for a colony of one male to 3 females. You will need a couple of hides, and about 5 inches of sand substrate. Garden sand or play sand works fine. You can use plastic plants in the habitat if you want to. These guys don’t try to eat plants. They are true carnivores.
Desert Horned Lizards must have ants to survive. Crickets and other insects do not have the Formic Acid that is a nutritional requirement of Horny Toads. The ants they feast on are Harvester Ants. This is a large ant, usually red, but can be found in black or a combination of the two colors. You can purchase them online for about $20.00 per thousand.
When feeding, make sure none remain once the lizard has stopped eating. They will attack and, in large numbers, even kill the Horned Lizard. In the wild the reptile hides in the sand and laps them up as they come wandering by. If they spy the lizard and attack, he runs away. In a tank this option of escape is not available.
Refrigerate your ants in a jar in the warmest part of your fridge, usually the door or bottom. They will go into hibernation. They will look dead, but they aren’t. Shake a few ants into the habitat at a time. As the ants wake up and wiggle, the lizards will eat them.
Keep the ants in the fridge for 10 days, then take the jar out and let them wake up. Put a few drops of water into the jar and let them hydrate. After about and hour you can put them back in the fridge for another 10 days. I have kept them for over a month using this method. Be careful – the Harvester Ant’s bite is very painful.
The DHL will not drink from standing water. Many keepers use a mister, but I like to hand spray once a day in the evening. This gives me an opportunity to be confident that they are drinking their fill. They lift their head, close their eyes and suck in the droplets as they run to their mouths. Once they are finished, they will run from the water to a hide.
Desert Horned Lizards made in the spring and deposit 2-15 eggs in June or July. The eggs incubate for 50-60 days. Females often have two clutches per year.
zoo collections, appearance
live ants, captivity, primarily harvester ants
Eastern Oklahoma, interesting defense mechanisms, horny toads, Arizona basin, eyes, West Texas
That's a "horny toad"?
Horned lizard, or as I was told, "horny toad"...You have to admit that these creatures are simply wicked looking. I love them. They look so primal. Do they make a good pet though? Well, I would say that it depends on what you are looking for in a pet.
Growing up in Eastern Oklahoma, I had never seen one until visiting my grandpa in West Texas for the summer. I had always heard people mention horny toads, so I was wanting to find one. I had no idea that it was a lizard. Apparently they just have fat bodies that remind people of toads. Even with that knowledge, I wasn't disappointed when I finally saw one. My grandpa had one as a pet. He named him "Igor". Of course I use the term "pet" loosely. Basically, he hung around my grandpa's house and fed off of the ants. I guess he was comfortable enough to let us pick him up though, because he never shot blood out of his eyes at us...Yes, they can do that. Instead, he would just hang out on the front of my grandpa's shirt for a while. My grandpa would do some yard work, find an ant hill and then he would position Igor near it. The next day he would find him around the same area and repeat the process. I guess they had a pretty good working relationship.
Still, if you are considering one as a pet, consider a bit longer. They don't last long in captivity, from what I have been told. Also, since they mostly live off of live ants, you will need to have a steady supply of them. I don't know about you, but that isn't a food source that I want to purposely introduce into my home. However, I think the best argument against having them as pets is the fact that we need them in the wild. They help keep the ant population down. Unfortunately, they are dying out in West Texas where my grandpa is from. People have decided to put poison out for the ants, in turn it is killing the horned lizard.
So, if you see a "horny toad" outside somewhere, admire it....even take pictures of it, but leave it there. It has a job to do and it is trying its hardest to do it well..
From jarrodr Apr 18 2014 2:16PM
Desert Horned Lizard
I wish I could recommend the horned lizard, but even in zoo collections they give me a great deal of trouble. They are ant specialists, and in fact accept only certain species, and also need exposure to high levels of UVB, and likely, UVA. Unfortunately, we do not know enough about them as captives, and they usually do not thrive. Until more info is available, they are best enjoyed in the wild or in the few zoos which work with them..
From findiviglio Jul 13 2014 7:06PM