top of page

Desert Horned Lizards (phrynosoma platyrhinos) eating dubia roach nymphs

11-The desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) :

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) is a species of phrynosomatid lizard native to western North America. They are often referred to as "horny toads", although they are not toads, but lizards.

Desert horned lizard

Conservation status :




Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)[1]

Scientific classification:









Species:P. platyrhinos

Binomial name :

Phrynosoma platyrhinos
Girard, 1852

Description :


This species of lizard has a distinctive flat body with one row of fringe scales down the sides. They have one row of slightly enlarged scales on each side of the throat. Colours can vary and generally blend in with the color of the surrounding soil, but they usually have a beige, tan, or reddish dorsum with contrasting, wavy blotches of darker color. They have two dark blotches on the neck that are very prominent and are bordered posteriorly by a light white or grey color. They also have pointed scales on the dorsum (back) of the body. Juveniles are similar to adults, but have shorter and less-pronounced cranial spines. Desert horned lizards have horns that are wide at the base, which isn't true for their congener, the short-horned lizard.


Diet  :


Desert horned lizards prey primarily on invertebrates, such as ants (including red harvester ants,) crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, worms, flies,lady bugs, meal worms and some plant material. They can often be found in the vicinity of ant hills, where they sit and wait for ants to pass by.

 When they find an area of soft sand, they usually shake themselves vigorously, throwing sand over their backs and leaving only their head exposed. This allows them to hide from predators and await their unsuspecting prey.


Habitat :


Found in extremely diverse habitats. The flat-tailed horned lizard occurs in areas of fine sand, while the short-horned lizard (P. douglasii) is found in shortgrass prairie all the way up into spruce-fir forest. The most common species in the Arizona Upland subdivision is the regal horned lizard (P. solare), which frequents rocky or gravelly habitats of arid to semiarid plains, hills and lower mountain slopes.


Geographic range and subspecies


They typically range from southern Idaho in the north to northern Mexico in the south.


There are considered to be two subspecies: the northern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos platyrhinos) ranging in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, the Colorado front range, and parts of southeastern Oregon; and the southern desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos calidiarum) ranging in southern Utah and Nevada to southeast California, western Arizona, and northern Baja California.


Reproduction :


The young are called hatchlings. They are about 7/8 to 1-1/8 inches long, snout to vent. The young have been observed to bury themselves in the sand immediately upon hatching. The babies receive no parental care, so when they emerge, they start to hunt for food. The young are cute, the horns on their head are apparent, although the rest of their skin, while well marked, is relatively smooth. Mating occurs in late April, peaks in June and stops abruptly in July. Egg laying starts a few weeks later, usually in late July and early August. The farther north, the later the eggs are laid. In some species the eggs are retained, and the young are hatched just before, during or shortly after laying. Other species bury their eggs in the sand where they require several weeks for further development before the eggs hatch. The egg shells are white and flexible and average about one-half inch in diameter. The number of eggs varies with the species. Some have from 10 to 30 eggs, with an average of about 15. They grow most rapidly in late summer and early spring when there is an abundance of food. There is no evidence that they reproduce the first year, but they are classed as young adults by the end of the second summer and probably reach full growth in three years. Some species reach a snout-to-vent length of 6 inches. Most species are less than 5 inches in length. They have a life expectancy of from 5 to 8 years in the deserts of North America.[2]



Behavior :


They are generally a gentle species, but have been known to try to push their cranial spines into the hand while held. When excited, they puff themselves up with air, similar to the way a Chuckwalla does, making themselves look bigger. If spotted near a bush, they will dash into it in an attempt to find cover from any threat. Unlike several other horned lizardspecies, desert horned lizards are unable to squirt blood from their eyes.[3]

For the external links , refrences  click here to read the full wikipedia article 

Video : 

Care Articles : 

-  Platyrhinos Husbandry
Captive Care of Common Desert Horned Lizards

courtesy to :

by Gene T 



First and foremost I must emphasize that horned lizards are not easy to care for in captivity and are not for beginners. Most horned lizards collected from the wild for pets have an average life expectancy of approximately six weeks due to improper living conditions or incorrect diet. By and large, horned lizards from any species are best left in the wild, as they are becoming more and more scarce as their prime habitat is lost to make more human habitat and as a result of inadequate enforcement of laws protecting them from collection. That being said, what follows are care instructions for those who feel they have the necessary previous experience and wish to keep and properly care for the Acommon desert horned lizard@ Phrynosoma platyrhinos. These are care tips that I have learned over eight years of caring for, researching, and observing horned lizards. These are by no means guaranteed to work in every situation. Each horned lizard has a personality all its own, so these tips and instructions may need to be tweaked and modified depending on how the lizards react to what=s going on. REMEMBER, all that matters is the lizards= welfare; they must be made and kept comfortable. They dictate to you what proper living conditions are, so ultimately, you must take your cues from them as to what is working and what is not. If you are not willing to make the time and money investments necessary to properly care for them, then DO NOT GET A HORNED LIZARD. 


Selecting a horned lizard :


First, the illegal pet trade is a thriving industry and is one of the many reasons that wild horned lizard populations are in trouble. So be sure to do research on which horned lizards are protected, not just in your region, if you live in an area where horned lizards occur, but in general, and how to identify them on sight. It would also be a good idea to do some research on dietary requirements, as they can differ somewhat from species to species and these differences can mean the difference between their acceptance of the environmental conditions you have set up for them and premature death. For example, desert horned lizards are split into two subspecies: Northern (platyrhinos platyrhinos) identifiable by a speckled belly and rounded tail, and Southern (platyrhinos calidiarum) identifiable by a speckled belly and slightly flattened tail. Both have a wild diet made up of roughly 90% harvester ants; the captive specimens, while not necessarily needing a proportion of ants that high, are nevertheless much healthier when the ants can make up the bulk of their diets. 


Some states also require special permits or other paperwork to keep reptiles, so make sure you have all the legal paperwork dealt with. Once all the legalities are taken care of and the legitimacy of the pet trader is established, make sure that all the horned lizards you purchase are captive bred. Apart from meaning that no horned lizards were needlessly taken from the wild, ensuring that you have captive-bred, or at least captive-hatched, horned lizards is important for at least two other major reasons. First, they are much more likely to be free of the usual parasites, roundworms, mites, etc., that are more common in wild-caught specimens. Remember that your lizard will be extremely freaked out when you pick it up, from the traumatic transportation, storage at the pet store, and of course adjusting to the new and strange environment you put them in. So the odds of your lizards adjusting successfully to their new home will be greatly increased the healthier they are when you first receive them. The second reason captive-bred animals are preferable to wild-caught animals is that they tend not to stress as easily. A wild-caught lizard will start becoming stressed at the first hint of a human, cat, dog, or loud noise in its vicinity. Once they become stressed, they can enter a long-term defense mode and stop eating. From there it all goes downhill quickly, and premature death is common. Captive-bred lizards are exposed to human sights and sounds from the time they hatch, and as a result the sights and sounds of human life are more familiar to them and so don=t stress them out as much. This alone makes them much better suited as pets than their wild-born counterparts. It is important to note that while they do not stress as easily as wild-caught horned lizards, they are still more easily stressed than most reptile pets; neither captive-bred nor wild-caught horned lizards will ever be able to be handled to the same degree as, say, a bearded dragon or an iguana, but you can still remove captive-bred horned lizards from their tanks occasionally without triggering a severe stress response from them. For this reason, it has been my experience that having an enclosure lid that is opened and closed continuously will freak out the lizards and even lead to some long-term problems with them. So I always keep the lid off the enclosure in a room inaccessible to other pets or children and that does not usually experience heavy foot traffic. Finally, while horned lizards are not noted in the literature as being social animals, and in the wild they are rarely seen in groups, it has been my experience that two horned lizards tend to do better in captivity than a single animal. A single animal--male or female it makes no difference--can do well in captivity, but it tends to have more problems adjusting to its surroundings, usually refuses to eat for about two to three days after introduction, and has chronic problems maintaining an adequate dietary intake volume. In contrast, when I have introduced two horned lizards in the same tank at the same time, I have seen them eat voraciously within five minutes of introduction. For whatever reason, the desert horned lizards living as pairs eat better and tend to be healthier over the long run in captivity than single animals living under the same conditions. Whether it is the implied competition for food represented by the presence of another lizard in the same space, or some other as yet unobserved reason, the horned lizards I have had living in pairs eat vigorously and maintain a nice robust weight (between 22 and 35 grams depending on the individual) than those living alone, whose weights tend to fluctuate widely and dangerously (between 14 and 24 grams), and maintaining a healthy stable weight is very difficult. 


However, if you do decide to put two horned lizards together, a male/female coupling is best, though since females tend to grow larger than males, you must make sure both animals are getting enough food and that one is not muscling the other out of its fair share. Female/female arrangements work well, but similar stress can occur during feeding events and breeding season. Never put more than one male into an enclosure; while they do not fight per se, or cause physical injury to each other, they will be territorial. One male will assert its dominancy over the other, shut it out of feeding events, and prevent it from eating. Once this happens, the other male=s health will quickly decline and he will die. 



All the experience I have with horned lizard enclosures is with indoor setups. In general, the more space the horned lizard is given, the happier it will be; remember that in the wild they will range over large areas looking for food. However, the minimum size I would recommend for the enclosure is 20 gallons per lizard. Custom cages are best, but failing that, the Abreeder@ style terrariums are what work best for horned lizards, since horned lizards need space for running not climbing and that is what the “breeder” tanks are set up for. Be sure not to build horned lizard enclosures from fish aquariums, as they are deeper than they are wide and, as I mentioned, horned lizards do better when they have lots of space to roam over: since horned lizards do not really climb at all, they do not need the extra height. In addition, the higher glass walls that characterize fish aquariums tend to retain more heat from the lamps, meaning the aquariums will heat up faster, dissipate the heat more slowly, and retain it longer after the lamps are shut off. This can lead to uncontrolled and prolonged temperature spikes throughout the enclosure, which can potentially cook your lizards alive. Even if the temperature does not rise to dangerous levels, the taller glass walls of the enclosure will maintain higher temperatures into the sleep cycle, which will also stress out the lizards, disrupting their daytime behavior as well. Be sure that the walls of the tank are at least 12 inches high, as I have had some pretty nimble and acrobatic lizards who have managed to jump out of their enclosures when the wall height drops below 6-8 inches. I have even watched one of my lizards jump up the wall, catch the lip of the enclosure, and do a pull up over and out of it. 


The regions that provide the optimum habitat for desert horned lizards are characterized by the presence of fine sand and gravel, flat arid stretches of land where there is an intermediate dispersion of larger rocks and scrub vegetation. You should try your best to mimic this kind of environment when considering what to put in your horned lizard enclosure. For substrate, if you don=t live in an area where horned lizards naturally occur, I recommend between two and three inches of jurassic red sand, as this is similar to the type of sand that predominates in areas where desert horned lizards naturally occur. The areas where desert horned lizards occur in nature usually have very fine sand, normally red or white in color, peppered with small gravel. I do not recommend including small gravel in the enclosure, though, mostly because this makes removing fecal pellets and general enclosure cleaning much more difficult. 


You should include one or two larger rocks (between 1-2 lbs of weight) at one end of the tank with a heat lamp set up over or near at least one of them. If possible, make sure these go all the way to the bottom of the enclosure; this way you will not have to worry about your lizard digging under the rocks and possibly being crushed or smothering under the rocks. You can also put some smaller rocks in the enclosure to add some more variability to the environment and make it appear more natural to the horned lizard, because despite being captive hatched they do have instincts and preferences concerning what is the safest habitat for them to be in. If they are not satisfied, they will become stressed and decline in health. Also, a small resin Arock@ cave may be a good addition to give them some place to completely hide if they want to, or to provide an area where temperatures are consistently cooler so they can more efficiently thermoregulate. These caves can be purchased at any pet store that sells reptile supplies. 


To simulate the scrub vegetation characteristic of an arid area, several small pieces of drift wood should be used instead of live plants, as these can be hard to maintain in an indoor enclosure. These pieces of drift wood should be arranged in such a way that the horned lizards can hide among them, as they would under and among the dense, but small, scrub bushes in their natural habitat. These areas should also be away from the heat lamps, as these are also areas horned lizards seek out to escape the heat of the day and where they prefer to bury themselves when they sleep. Both horned lizards I now have were captive hatched and have never been out in nature, and both of them immediately started sleeping under the drift wood Abushes@ as opposed to under/around the rocks or under the open sand. Be careful when arranging the drift wood bushes that their tops do not come too close to the enclosure=s rim. I have not once observed this species climbing up vegetation, as Texas Horned lizards are sometimes known to do, so having them escape this way is not really a concern; however, having crickets, beetles, or worse, the harvester ants climb up and out of the enclosure in this way is. Be sure to create one bush in this manner for each horned lizard you have, as they may compete with one another for this space if there is only one. Mine did. 


In general, adding a water dish to the enclosure for the purpose of providing water for the horned lizard is unnecessary, since I have never seen any of my horned lizards drink from a pool of water. Mostly, they just stand in it and go to the bathroom, creating a potential source for disease and infection. I do, however, recommend that a shallow water dish containing a very small amount of water or cricket food be put in the tank for the purposes of keeping the lizards= food hydrated. Adding rocks and other features to the tank can give it character, but it is important to make sure it does not become overcrowded, as this will stress out the lizards. Also, horned lizards do much more digging than the more common lizard species kept as pets, so you will have to rebuild your setup on a fairly regular basis. So avoid unnecessary aggravation; keep the setup simple. Remember that these horned lizards prefer to have flat open spaces to run around in, so most of the tank should be designed with this type of feature in mind. 


Finally, putting up some sort of blind around the enclosure is advisable, as it prevents you from accidentally disturbing, frightening, or startling the lizards as you walk through the room. Something simple, like brown paper or cardboard, will work; however, if you want something a little more real that will add more character to the setup you can also print out desert-scapes from the computer or buy them from a local pet shop. 




Lighting for desert horned lizards is much the same as it is for most other lizards. My experience with lighting for desert horned lizards is that it is best, regardless of how many lizards you have in one enclosure, to have at least two heat lamps per setup, one on the larger basking rocks and the other focused on the open sand, as horned lizards will begin their days usually basking on rocks and later in the day move to the open sand to bask. If you have multiple lizards, having the lights arranged in this manner will give your lizard basking options so as to avoid territory conflicts. They seem to have no problems basking on the same rocks or on the open sand together so long as they have the option of avoiding each other if they want to. Everyone needs some alone time, and they are no different. If you have more than one large rock, then arrange one heat lamp in the general area as close to all the basking rocks as you can. Horned lizards have a much greater tolerance for high temperatures than do other lizards, so as long as you have a fairly cool area in the tank there will be no danger of their overheating and dying. Basking temperatures should range between 102 and 116 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cooler regions, preferably under and around the Ascrub brush,@ should range between the high 70's and mid-eighties during the day cycle. 


Horned lizards, like all reptiles, need to be exposed to UVA and UVB light. Preferably, you should place the tank where it can get unfiltered (as in not through glass or plastic) sunlight. If that is not possible, then full spectrum bulbs can be purchased at your local pet store. Be sure that the bulb emits both UVA and UVB light. Florescent as opposed to incandescent bulbs are more effective. However, over time the florescent bulbs will no longer emit the UV rays as effectively and so should be changed every three to six months. 


I usually keep the lighting cycle between 10 and 12 hours of daylight and between 12 and 14 hours of night depending on the season. My lizards seem to prefer this setup, and as long as there are cooler spots within the enclosure they will go to them to sleep if they want to. My female usually un-buries herself before the lights turn on and buries herself after they go off, while my male lizard un-buries himself about an hour after the lights turn on, sometimes takes naps throughout the day, and about half the time buries himself for the night between 45 minutes to an hour before the lights go out. 




This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of owning horned lizards. This is true in part because ants, their natural food, are difficult to come by. Other major problems include often contradictory accounts of what they will and will not eat in captivity, and the personality of the horned lizards in question cannot be ignored either. Again, this section is made up of information about methods that have worked for me in caring for my horned lizards. 

Let me first begin by dispelling the common misconception that horned lizards will not survive in captivity on the food commonly available in pet stores for lizards, eg meal worms and crickets. I kept my horned lizards on a diet made up almost exclusively of crickets, mealworms, beetles and a few local carpenter ants for almost 2 years before I found a place that sells live harvester ants. While it is true that horned lizards= diets are composed mostly of ants, it has been found that anywhere between 10-40% of their diet is composed of other insects like crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, etc. So they will eat them. 


Horned lizards prefer food that moves around a lot, so it is important to give them only healthy, active food items that will move around a lot and attract the lizard=s attention. Since a diet composed mostly of crickets and meal worms will be deficient in many essential vitamins and minerals, things they normally could get from the ants they would eat in the wild, it is important to give the crickets a healthy dusting of vitamin and calcium powder to make up for this deficiency. Also, gut-loading the crickets with cricket food prior to feeding them to the lizards will help keep them healthy. Cricket food and vitamin and calcium powder are available at local pet stores, and always buy the highest quality available. It=s a good investment since it will help keep your lizards healthy, and the lizards eat so little of it at a time that you will not have to buy more for a long time. 


When feeding your horned lizards, especially this artificial diet, it is important to Alisten@ to what your lizard wants to eat. Each lizard has its own individual tastes and likes, and just like a finicky child, if you try to feed it something it doesn’t like then it won=t eat it, but unlike a child the horned lizard can refuse to eat until it dies. Some horned lizards prefer crickets, some prefer meal worms, and some have a decided preference for beetles. If you concentrate on feeding them food they like, you can occasionally entice them to eat some items they would normally be less inclined to. For instance, my male horned lizard prefers meal worms and beetles to crickets, but neither meal worms nor beetles can be dusted effectively, so I concentrate on feeding him those items and then throw him 3 or 4 dusted crickets which he will then eat and in this way he stays nutritionally well set. Also, some horned lizards won=t mind if you watch them eat; others won=t eat if they can see you, so again, you have to pay attention to what your lizards want and then give it to them. If you are afraid one lizard is not eating, then you can remove the lizard you know is eating, or set up a partition between them in the enclosure using a small pane of glass or similar material, and then feed the lizard you fear is not eating; this way, whatever food disappears you know was eaten by the lizard you intended it for.


Of course, your lizards= eating habits, general health, and vitality will improve if you can give them even a few ants in their diet. One thing I discovered with desert horned lizards is that if you do not live in an area where their preferred prey of harvester ants lives, then black carpenter ants work quite well as a substitute. They are larger and therefore have a higher protein and fat content than the harvester ants do, so you don=t need to feed as many to your lizards. The addition of ants to your lizards’ diet, even carpenter ants, will help increase the lizards’ appetite and activity. Of course, harvester ants are still best and should be used whenever possible; they can be ordered on line at If you can=t afford to order harvester ants and are fortunate enough (or unfortunate, as the case may be) to live near a carpenter ant nest, just remember that some ants are better than none. 


Here are some final bits of general feeding information for desert horned lizards. First, desert horned lizards usually feed continually throughout the day, so giving them smaller feedings throughout the day will work better than one big feeding event. Along the same lines, horned lizards have evolved an instinctive respect for the natural prey and will avoid large masses of insects, be they ants, crickets, or any other food item you decide to give them. So, again, smaller amounts of food numerous times a day are best, and be sure to put the food into the tank at a point furthest from the lizard or lizards. After all, having your meal dumped on your head is not a pleasant experience by anybody=s standards, and the same is true for your horned lizards. Also, unlike with most pet lizards, it is ok to leave food items in the tank for long periods of time, since, as I mentioned earlier, horned lizards will hunt and forage throughout the day, so this is actually beneficial for them. Mealworms can be left in for days, since they cannot hurt the lizards in any way and survive well in the relatively austere conditions of the tank and so will give them a fairly constant food source to exploit. Thus, in case there is a day when you are not able to feed them because of work or some emergency or other such event, they can still get food. This will only hold them over for a day or two, so don=t go on vacation, leave them a few mealworms, and expect them to be all right when you get back. Crickets, beetles, and ants should not be left in the tank overnight, as horned lizards may not always completely bury themselves and could be attacked by their intended meals. Supplemental powders, such as the vitamin and calcium powders, stay on crickets for a long time in an enclosure filled mostly with sand, so re-dusting is not much of an issue. Delicate items such as wax worms should be given to horned lizards infrequently, since their high fat content could make them hard for the horned lizards to digest if given to them too often. They should be removed immediately if the horned lizard is not interested in them. Finally, if your horned lizard is reluctant to eat anything other than ants or crickets, a little trick that works well for me to expand their diet is to mix in a few meal worms with the ants when I feed them to the horned lizards. The ants attack the meal worms, causing them to thrash about wildly, which will get the horned lizard’s attention very quickly. The horned lizard will then usually rush over and eat the whole mealworm-ant complex in one bite. Afterwards, they may be more inclined to eat meal worms placed in front of them. Repeat as necessary. 



As mentioned earlier, having a dish of standing water in the enclosure is fairly pointless, as I have never once observed a horned lizard drinking from a pool of water, either in captivity or in the wild. More often than not, they will use a pool of water as a toilet, leading to an increased chance of disease and infection. The only good use I have noted for a water dish in a desert horned lizard enclosure is as a means of keeping prey, such as crickets and ants, hydrated long enough to be eaten. This can be done by putting just enough water in a shallow dish to cover the bottom, or putting a small sponge or bit of cricket food in it and placing it in a cooler area of the enclosure. 


In my experience, there are two major methods of watering horned lizards that get the best results. The first method is to mist them with water from a spray bottle twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, three to four times a week. This may seem like a lot, but as long as you do not soak the tank most of the water will evaporate, both from the sand and from the lizard, in very short order, minimizing any risk of respiratory tract infections or bacterial/ fungal infections that can occur when too much moisture is present in the horned lizard enclosure. Also, a great deal of the water that horned lizards drink in the wild comes from dew collected in the morning when they wake up, and occasionally they will drink droplets that gather on scrub vegetation or rocks. So this manner of watering is very natural to them; despite their likely initial reaction of running around the enclosure, they seem to enjoy it. 


The second manner of watering horned lizards mimics rain fall. When it rains, horned lizards will position their bodies one of two ways, either with their faces pointed as straight up as they can, or hunching their heads down slightly between their front legs. These positions cause the water to run along the spines and horns towards the mouth, and then they drink from this resultant stream. For this method all you need is a medicine dropper and a container of clean water. Simply position the dropper above the animal=s head, making sure to keep the dropper tip out of the enclosure, and drop one drop of water onto their heads. Aim for the tip of the snout or the back of the neck, towards the base of the skull and the main cranial horns. Keep about one second between drops and do not squirt them, as this will cause defensive behavior and defeat the purpose. Be sure to drop a few drops of water over their bodies as well, as this will help to stimulate drinking behavior. The horned lizard may initially be startled by the drops of water and run, but will usually calm down after a few seconds and will then stop and drink normally. If they do not, then stop watering them immediately, wait about an hour, and then try again. This time, drop a few drops in front of the lizard to simulate the first few drops that fall from the sky before a storm, and slowly move the drops closer to the lizard. Drop a few drops on its tail and back before aiming for the head region. This slower method of watering should work on even the most skittish of lizards. Perform this method of watering once every one to two weeks. 


For the best effect use both methods. Despite being arid animals, desert horned lizards need to be kept hydrated and can easily become dehydrated if neglected. Once becoming dehydrated, the lizard must be isolated from the other animal(s) in the tank and watered once or twice daily. Desert horned lizards will not eat when dehydrated, so these animals must be given a dose of emergency medical reptile treatment supplement, which will keep them fed and help them rehydrate. In emergency circumstances, take the horned lizard to the vet for an injection of electrolytic solution to help jump-start the rehydration process, then proceed as directed above and your lizard should recover with time. Signs of dehydration are similar to those of starvation, which dehydration will lead to if left alone. Symptoms include lethargy, a shrunken shriveled appearance to the skin (hard to notice in horned lizards), sunken eyes, excessive sleeping, and decreased size of uric-crystals (the white material on the fecal pellet) and pellets of reduced size. An early sign of dehydration is instant and vigorous drinking when sprayed or when water is dropped on their heads. I lost one lizard and almost lost another because I did not recognize, or insufficiently responded to, the symptoms when they presented themselves. 

Sanitation & Disease:


When you are looking for a vet, a herp vet of course is preferable, but most vet offices keep a staff member on hand who specializes in Aexotics,@ and they can usually provide you with help for most of the basic health care needs, medications, and diagnostic services you may need. Remove fecal pellets and dead food items every day, preferably after the lizards bury themselves for the night to minimize stress. Use a small metal strainer. These can be found at any super market. Also, sifting off and either sterilizing or replacing the top half-inch or so of sand every few months will help keep things healthy and clean. Remember, this is what they sleep in, so keep it clean.


Horned lizards will usually have internal round worms; this is because the roundworm Aeggs,@ which are present in the ants they eat, hatch when digested in the horned lizard’s stomach, grow in the intestines, and then are passed when they mature. These worms, when present in healthy animals, do not harm them, and so it is not necessary to medicate them, especially since they will be reinfected when they are fed ants again. But if the lizard is sick, you might want to contact your local vet for a de-worming medication, as these roundworms could potentially make it harder for a sick animal to recover. The presence of round worms in one or more of your animals will be evident from little dried white worm carcasses, about a half inch long, lying in the sand. A sure sign that one of your lizards may be sick is excessive basking. Reptiles, like humans, have increased body temperatures when they are sick. To achieve this higher body temperature, they must bask for longer periods. When one of my lizards came down with an ophthalmic infection, he would be under the basking lamp for many hours. This, in part, is why it is a good idea to have one of your basking lamps a little closer to the basking rocks. The temperature under one of these closer lamps should be about 110-116 degrees. Do this purposefully, so prolonged time under this lamp can indicate to you that a health problem exists in your lizard. This was the case with my lizard with the ophthalmic infection.


Ophthalmic infections are a serious problem in captive-bred animals, so be wary of them. An ophthalmic infection is an eye infection caused by a grain of sand or some other irritant getting stuck in the eye, causing damage to the tissue and a subsequent infection. The infection causes their eyes to run with a cloudy mucus-like liquid that often seals the eyes when they dry, and causes them to crust up with sand, compounding the problem (it looks similar to Pink-Eye [conjunctivitis] in people). Unable to see and therefore eat, the lizards will die if left untreated. The lizard(s) will most likely be extremely jumpy due to their inability to see you, or anything else, coming. They might jump and hiss like they want to take a bite out of your hand. Ophthalmic infections are pretty easy to treat when caught early. Early symptoms include scratchy eyes. So if you see your lizard using its hind leg to scratch its face like a dog, it may be a sign that it has something in its eye. If you see this behavior frequently, over the course of a day or two, then you should try to rinse out the lizards’ eyes with plain saline solution or an over the counter ophthalmic eye wash solution that can be found at PetSmart. If this behavior continues for more than a couple of days, or the eyes become runny or crusty, make an appointment with the vet as soon as possible for a prescription eye ointment and rinse. 




Successful hibernation of animals in captivity can be very difficult, especially if it gets colder where you live than the lizards can tolerate. Having them hibernate in their tank in an unheated room, as many people owning horned lizards within their natural ranges do, is hazardous in colder areas, as the temperature in the tank and in the substrate can fall below freezing for prolonged periods, and for the lizard to survive the temperature cannot drop below 40 degrees for more than a few hours. If you can=t precisely control the temperature, then hibernating your lizards may not be the best of ideas. If you can, there are other resources on this website that can give you all the information you need.


In general, keeping the temperature at its usual year round temperature is feasible and less likely to result in lizard death. However, if your lizard stops eating, sleeps longer, becomes lethargic, or otherwise acts like it is preparing to hibernate, then around the end of January or beginning of February you can turn off one heat lamp, then one week later turn off the second heat lamp, and keep them off for two or three weeks. This will simulate a cold snap, and should be long enough for the lizard to slow down somewhat metabolically, but not enough to starve. Be sure to spray the tank periodically to keep it hydrated, as hibernation is a time when lizards become very susceptible to dehydration. After two to three weeks have passed, turn on one lamp, and then a few days later turn on the second lamp. The lizard’s instinct to hibernate should then be satisfied, and it should behave normally.




Horned lizards are very unforgiving as pets, in that they will not give you too many chances to fix any mistakes you make concerning their care, and they are even more unforgiving if you attempt to take care of them in an area outside of their native range. But if you feel that you must have one of these fascinating creatures, then hopefully my own experiences caring for them in New York State, of all places, will help you avoid some of the more common mistakes. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at GAThrawn1998 If anyone has any tips for me on breeding my horned lizards, also please email me..

Videos : 

My Desert Horned Lizards "Horny Toads" Phrynosoma platyrhinos  

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) FEEDING

 Phrynosoma Platyrhinos

Giant horned lizard Phrynosoma platyrhino

Phrynosoma platyrhinos - Wüstenkrötenechse

Phrynosoma platyrhinos

Sub-Species  :


  • Southern desert horned lizard, P. p. calidiarum Cope, 1896

  • Northern desert horned lizard, P. p. platyrhinos Girard, 1852

  • Sonoran horned lizard, P. p. goodei Stejneger, 1893

bottom of page