FWP Requests That Recreationists Be On The Lookout For Greater Short-Horned Lizards This Fall
October 18, 2023 | View PDF
Glasgow - As you are hitting the field this fall, be sure to take a break from scanning the horizon for game and look down at the ground once in a while. Not only will this help you avoid stepping on a cactus or a rattlesnake, but you might also see one of eastern Montana’s rarely seen critters…the greater short-horned lizard, commonly known as a “horny toad.” If you do, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks would like to know about it.
The greater short- horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi, was once considered the second most abundant reptile along the Missouri River in Montana in the late 19th Century, second only to the western rattlesnake. Currently, however, these lizards are considered a ‘Species of Greatest Inventory Need’ in Montana due to insufficient data on their population and distribution.
According to Nicole Hussey, FWP wildlife biologist in Region 6, “We have been conducting surveys in eastern Montana to try and determine status and distribution as well as fill in data gaps; however, their elusive nature and cryptic coloration make them extremely difficult to locate.”
“This is where we can use outdoor recreationists’ help,” continued Hussey, “because oftentimes people just accidentally come across one.”
Hussey and other biologists are seeking the help of folks out trekking around the countryside to provide incidental observations in addition to our structured survey efforts.
“If you happen to observe one anywhere in the state,” says Hussey, “please record the location, get GPS coordinates if possible, and note the date, number observed, and take a photo with something in the picture for scale if you can.”
Observations can be reported to your local FWP biologist.
- Region 5 (Billings): Megan O’Reilly at [email protected]
- Region 6 (Glasgow): Nicole Hussey at [email protected]
- Region 7 (Miles City): Brandi Skone at [email protected]
A few things about the greater short-horned lizard:
- Adult greater short-horned lizards are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the warmer daylight hours.
- Coloration is cryptic with the soil (blends in) and can vary by locality.
- The broad, flattened body separates this lizard from the other three lizard species regularly documented in Montana, and the range overlaps only with the common sagebrush lizard, which is much more slender.
- The head has a “heart-shaped” appearance when viewed from above.
- They are usually easiest to spot when they move and catch your eye.
- Greater short-horned lizards are found in the eastern half of Montana, but in scattered locations throughout their range.
- They are often found on south or east-facing slopes of coulees and ridge tops, and some open flats.
- They prefer habitats with sagebrush, creeping juniper, or rabbitbrush with sparse bunch grass, patches of bare ground, and shale-like soil. They are even found in some ponderosa pine stands.
They can shoot blood out of their eyes! As a defense mechanism against canid and felid predators, the greater short-horned lizard will shoot pressurized blood from its eye. The blood has a repulsive taste that comes from consuming venomous harvester ants.
Although they seem like they would make a good pet, please leave these fascinating critters where you find them.