Pygmy Short-horned Lizard

October 27, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard

Pygmy Short-horned Lizard. 
Photo: Jared Grummer

Name: Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglassii)
Order: Lizard (Squamata)
Family: Spiny Lizards (Phrynosomatidae)

What they look like

  • Short-horned lizards are small to medium-sized lizards that are usually 1.3 to 2.5 inches long.
  • They have small horns pointed outward from the back of their short blunt head.
  • Their body is round, flattened, spiky, and surrounded by numerous pointy scales along the sides. The top of their body has dark blotches amidst brown, tan, beige, white, gray, and/or black.
  • They have short legs and short triangular tail.

Where they live

  • View a map of where they live.
  • Short-horned lizards can be found in many areas of the northwestern United States, ranging from near the Canadian border to northeastern California, northern Nevada, and southern Idaho.
  • Even though they tend to live in open, shrubby, or openly wooded areas scattered with ground plants, their habitats range from semi-arid plains to mountains.

What they eat

  • Short-horned lizards feed on insects, especially ants.


  • Between July and September, females give live birth to 3 to 15 young.

Cool Biology Facts

  • Overall, horned lizards are rather toad-like in appearance, hence their Latin name “Phrynosoma” meaning “toad body”.  
  • To help hide from predators and seek refuge on hotter days, they use a technique called “shimmy burial” in which they slide their body side-to-side in loose soil or sand to partly submerge themselves.


  • Even though the destruction of habitat for agriculture may threaten short-horned lizards, they are considered “least concern” due to their large range and large stable populations.
  • View their status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Distribution Map

Map of Pygmy Short-horned Lizard distribution in Washington state. Learn more on the NatureMapping Foundation website.

Explore more of the Amphibians & Reptiles of Washington or check out All About Amphibians.

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