Visit our new website

Canadian Herpetological Society

Société d'herpétologie du Canada

Phrynosoma hernandesi
Greater Short-horned Lizard / Grande Iguane à Petites Cornes

Greater Short-horned Lizard

Until recently this species and the Pygmy Short-horned Lizard were considered to be different subspecies of the Short-horned Lizard. Recently it has been discovered that the two groups are separate species. The Short-horned Lizard is gray, yellowish, or reddish-brown. Males average 50 mm in body length and females 70 mm.

Confusing Species
A small lizard with a fringe of tiny horns around its sides, the Short-horned Lizard is not easily confused with any other species in Alberta or Saskatchewan.

The Short-horned Lizard is only found in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. It is also found across much of the American southwest and part of Mexico.

This lizard is associated with the mixed grass prairie. It is frequently found at the edge of habitat types, particularly coulee and canyon rims. South-facing slopes are favoured, likely to extend the short active season.

Unlike most lizards, the Short-horned Lizard gives birth to its young, rather than laying eggs. Because of this, the mother can provide greater control over the temperature of the embryos. This likely allows this lizard to exist so far north. A female can give birth to up 13 young, each less than 25 mm long (about the size of a quarter) and weighing less than a gram.

Natural History
The Short-horned Lizard eats mainly ants and other insects. Females are considerably larger than males, likely to allow room for their developing young. Males likely reach maturity after their first hibernation. Females likely require another year. Females can live for five years, or perhaps even longer.

Conservation Concerns
Habitat destruction and conflicting land-use are the main threats to the Short-horned Lizard. Grazing by cattle close to canyon rims appears to eliminate this lizard. Development by the oil and gas industry may be the greatest threat because of the changes made to the landscape. Because Short-horned Lizards are at their northern limit, their habitat requirements are exacting and they are patchily distributed. Destruction of a key area may cause the eliminatin of an entire population. The Greater Short-horned Lizard is designated Endangered in Canada by COSEWIC.