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.

Explore Similar Content

Western Redback Salamander

Western Redback Salamanders are found up to 1,250 feet in elevation, higher than any other species in this family.

Columbia Spotted Frog

Thought to hibernate in mud under water, there is evidence that Columbia Spotted Frogs actually move around under the ice in winter.

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) swimming

Some female green sea turtles have been observed digging a fake nest next to their real nest in order to deceive predators!

Back to Top