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Genus Phrynosoma ( Horned Lizard aka Horny Toad ) Care Sheets
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Care Sheet for Horned Lizards

Average Rating Given To This Care Sheet Is 5.00    (1=lowest, 5=highest)    Last Updated: 06/01/2006

Main Category:


Sub Category:

Horned Lizards

 Care Sheet Submitted By:


Years Experience:

10 to 15 Years


Genus Phrynosoma ( Horned Lizard aka Horny Toad )

Other Species or Phases this Care Sheet May Cover:

Limited health related information from the Iguanidae Family applies also to Phrynosoma ( they are closely realted ), i.e. stress factors and skin blackening syndrome, infections & wound care, etc. Recommend Melissa Kaplanís information on the Green Iguana in this regard.

This care sheet covers only Phrynosoma ( Horned Lizards ).

The Short Horned species ( hernandesi and douglassi ) are generally found at higher altitudes, are generally accepted to do the worst in captivity, and therefore, may require additional care information ( especially with regard to temp, humidity, and diet ). Not all information contained here is applicable to hernandesi or douglassi. This sheet is most applicable to the majority of the other 12 species ( sub-species as some refer ), such as Texas ( cornutum ), Regal ( solare ), and Desert ( platyrhinos ).

Sexing and Characteristics:

Males generally have an easily identifiable row of yellowish femoral pores, running along the underside of each rear thigh, and hemipenal bulges at the base of the tail just rear of the vent ( underneath ). Additionally, just rear of the vent, there will be two larger "post anal" scales, noticeably larger than surrounding scales.

Females will have no row of pores, and generally have thinner tails at the base ( no bulging ). Though some species have characteristically wider tails, and may be harder to differentiate without comparison. Females also are generally larger than males, although again, experience and comparison with previous examples will help, since age can be harder to determine.

Mostly Active During:


Substrate and Water Needs:

Substrate: fine-grade sand, such as play box sand ( available at Home Depot $3-$4 50lb. One bag is sufficient to fill a 40gal. aquarium ( the minimum size considered acceptable by most Horned Lizard keepers ). Sand should be a few inches deep, sufficient for the lizard to burrow for sleep, and for thermoregulation.

Clean substrate of scat ( waste ) daily. The best way to accomplish this is by sifting the sand with a wire sifter/strainer.

Most Horned Lizards will not drink from a dish at all. The only use I have had for dishes, is as a basking pool. Horned Lizards usually drink by "rain harvesting". As water droplets fall on itís back, water is carried to itís mouth by numerous channels along itís body through capillary action. You may notice the lizard "smacking" itís mouth. This is how it drinks
The best way to offer water to a Horned Lizard, is by misting itís back with a spray bottle, and the general area around the lizard. It may sometimes lap water off rocks and other items in itís enclosure.

Some Horned Lizards may also respond to a dropper, and an alternate method of offering water is to place a drop of water on itís snout, right on the nostrils. The lizard will soon take the water in from itís nostrils and drink. The lizard is able to close the opening to the trachea, at the bottom of itís mouth.

Most Horned Lizards are native to desert or semi-arid climates, therefore, they do not require constant water. Horned Lizards will generally accept water no more than once or twice a week. Individual characteristics will vary, but there are no confirmed reports of a Horned Lizard accepting water everyday. If the lizard does not wish to drink, it will probably scurry off.

Ensure the water is close to room temp. Water straight from a faucet that is too cold, could be a shock to the lizardís body temp.

Lighting and UVB:

A secure outdoor enclosure is preferable to the lizard. If you can provide this, it is recommended. Provide areas where the lizard may bask in direct sunlight, and plenty of areas of shade for the lizard to retreat to during the day, and where the enclosure does not overheat. Remember, this lizard does not stay out in the sun all day. It retreats during mid-day.

If using outdoor setup, ensure that enclosure is secure but open to air and offers direct, unfiltered sunlight ( No glass, plexi, etc. ).

Most people use chicken wire for the tops and sides, to about a foot above ground. The lower sides of the enclosure can be covered with a finer mesh screen ( 1/4" ) to prevent escapes, and things such as snakes getting in. Fine screen will block much of the sunís UV, hence the reason for chicken wire for the upper sides and top.

If setting up in an aquarium, 40 gallon is generally the minimum acceptable for up to 2 lizards.

DO NOT PLACE LIZARD IN AN AQUARIUM OUTDOORS-The heat retained by the glass will quickly overheat and kill the lizard, turning an 80 degree day into 120 degrees on the hot sand, inside glass.

Lighting requirements for indoor setup:

A basking lamp on one end for heat.
A cooler spot on the opposite end to retreat from the heat.
UVB is mandatory. Some people use cheaper fluorescent UVB lamps which only radiate 2-3 Micro watts per cm2 @ 12"-AT BEST ( when new ). This is doing the lizard no good.

Labeling of UV lamps in the pet trade is often misleading. IF THE LAMP YOU BUY DOES NOT SPECIFICALLY STATE THAT IT PRODUCES "UVB", THEN IT DOES NOT PRODUCE "UVB". The factor for determining the worth of a UVB lamp is not the % of UVB ( i.e. 10%UVB ). This means nothing. The factor you are looking for in a good lamp is micro watts of UVB per square centimeter ( cm2 ) at 1 ft.

An average summer day in the southwest can see UVB in the 200+ micro watt range. It is generally accepted that 20 minutes exposure per day of such UVB is sufficient for the production of vitamin D3 in the lizardís skin. This allows the lizard to metabolize properly the calcium it takes in. Without it, the lizard ( and many other UVB dependent reptiles ) may develop deformities and die. I would consider the minimal acceptable UVB lamp to produce 20+ micro watts.

Most heat and UVB requirements can be met by using Mercury vapor lamps. Most produce 50+ micro watts. They are more costly, but produce sufficient UVB and heat.

Temperatures and Humidity:

Actual climate preferences may vary, depending on where the Horned Lizard is native. However, most are from similar climates, and this information is within the acceptable range for most breeds ( except the hernandesi and douglassi - Short Horns ).

This lizard hibernates in late fall til late spring/early summer by burrowing in the sand or under rocks, etc. As with any hibernating reptile, proper fat reserves to live through hibernation is necessary.

Day-Mid/High 90ís to low 100ís ( no more than 110í ) on the basking side.
High 80ís to Low 90ís on the cool side.
I prefer to keep warm side temps within the 96í-105í range
Night-Temps can fall to ambient, without need for night-time heat/light, so long as you do not live in a refrigerator. It should obviously not get to freezing, and I recommend keeping it above 40í. At prolonged low temps. the lizard will go into hibernation. If you should need to leave home for a few days, shutting down the lights/heat is a good way to lower the lizardís metabolism, therefore he will sleep more and get by without food for a short time ( not recommended for more than a few days ).

These lizards burrow in sand to thermoregulate and sleep. Often if it is particularly hot, they may burrow in a shaded area or under a cave hide. The mouth being held agape is a sign that this lizard is too hot. Remove it or provide a cooler environment right away.

Humidity for these lizards is less important, and does not require a gauge or monitoring. The weekly or twice weekly misting of the lizard and his surroundings will provide adequate humidity. If you notice the lizardís skin excessively dry, you may mist occasionally with a reptile skin conditioner spray.

Heating and Equipment:


You may add sand, rocks, caves, plants, etc. to taste. Offer shaded hiding spots that remain cool.

Horned Lizards frequently like to attempt to climb the walls when they are stressed. While doing so they often stand on their tails, which can damage the vertebrae and break their tail. Attempt to prevent this with a new lizard by covering the sides of the aquarium with printed landscape scenes or just paper. There is less chance the lizard will do this if he cannot see through the glass.

Caging Provided:

Simple wire caged outdoor terrarium for summer sunning, and a 50 gallon indoor aquarium.



Description of Diet:

Insectivorous: Main dietary component for most Horned Lizards is Harvester Ants ( Pogonomrymex ), making up 60%-90% of the diet ( depending on species ). The Regal HL ( solare ) is at the highest end of that scale, with the Desert HL ( platyrhinos ) a close second. Harvester Ants venom contains formic acid, which provides proper gastrointestinal pH levels. This acidity protects the lizard from GI tract illnesses and bacterial infections.

They may also accept small crickets, mealworms, and seem to really enjoy the occasional moth.

If offering crickets, mealworms, etc. ensure they are the smallest size possible. Horned Lizards do not possess great jaw strength, and are accustomed to small prey, such as ants, that they lift by the tongue. Additionally, an insect too large for the lizard may create digestive problems and lead to impaction ( digestive system blockage ), that could kill the lizard. I have conducted a necropsy on a previous Horned Lizard of mine that died from other causes, and their intestines are indeed small in diameter.

Crickets and mealworms contain a high amount of indigestible chitin and are high in fat content, which the Horned Lizardís system is not suitably adapted for as a frequent meal. I have maintained a Texas ( cornutum ) on a diet high in crickets and mealworms for over 3 years. Though the cornutum is believed to utilize Harvester Ants at around 60% of itís diet and makes use of many other insects in itís diet. In Texas, this may be due to the decline in Harvester Ant colonies, as the imported fire ant pushes north and west. Other species of Horned Lizard may, and often do, refuse regular food items other than Harvester Ants. This is especially true with many desert species from the southwest.

When offering Harvester Ants, place only a few at a time in with the lizard. Too many and they may turn aggressive and attack the lizard. The Horned Lizard is believed to possess some immunity to the venom ( which can kill small rodents with a few dozen stings ), however it is apparent that they do feel some pain from the sting.

Keep Harvester Ants hibernated in the refrigerator until ready for use. This will slow them down and make it easier for the lizard to eat.

A healthy and properly fed Horned Lizard will defecate everyday or every other day at the latest.


Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:

This lizard hibernates in late fall. As with any hibernating reptile, proper fat reserves to live through hibernation is necessary.

Repetitive or similar lizard supplement once a week is sufficient. Do not follow label instructions which advise vitamins at every, or every other feeding. This is too much.
Excessive supplements can result in hypervitamosis.

Alternately, a straight calcium dust and D3 supplement may be offered at the same time. If the lizard is getting sufficient UVB, there will be little need for D3 supplementation very often. THIS IS NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO GIVING THE LIZARD PROPER UVB EXPOSURE!

Supplements can be given with a few pinhead crickets once a week. The supplement dust seems to adhere best to crickets vs. other items.


Requires some daily maintenance, and most importantly, specific detailed care knowledge is required.

Avoid housing more than 2 lizards in an aquarium 40 gallons or smaller. A 40 gallon is usually best for 1 or a male/female pair.

Avoid housing a disproportionate number of males to females. Excessive males will harass and highly stress the females, possibly contributing to death. 1 male for every 3 or more females would be appropriate.

For the beginner, avoid housing Horned Lizards of different species together. While not all Horned Lizard species are particularly known for being territorially aggressive, some species, such as the solare ( Regal HL ) are known to conflict with cornutum ( Texas HL ). Incidents between males of different breeds may occur. Keeping different breeds separate, at least until they are deemed to be healthy and parasite free, will also lessen the chance migration of certain diseases between species.

It is recommended to disinfect your hands and utensils before coming into contact with animals in separate housing, especially those of different species. I prefer to use an anti-bacterial hand gel or soap.

In the case of any minor wounds, contact lens grade saline mixed 50/50 with betadine, may be used for irrigation and wound disinfection. I also use an over the counter triple anti-biotic cream every few days, after wound rinsing. In the case of lingering or deep wounds, the lizard may require an anti-biotic shot, such as Baytril, from a reptile vet.

Some Words on this Species:

I have been studying/keeping these fascinating lizards for about 5 years. They are definitely not what I would recommend for a beginner. They can be difficult in captivity, especially wild caughts.

There are 14 different recognized species ( or subspecies as some herpetologists would say ), in North America. Most of these are native to the southwestern US, though there are limited populations reported in the Carolinas and Florida, and some species can be found in the central plains from Oklahoma to the Dakotas and into the northwest and Canada.

Though none of these species native to the US is federally protected as of yet, most of these species are protected in many of the states concerned. For example, of the three species native to Texas, two of those are state protected by law and cannot be legally kept without expensive permit.

Some states protect all species within their borders, some protect only certain species deemed as state "threatened" or "rare", and a few states offer no protection. The legality depends on what the species is and what state you are in.

It is strongly advised that anyone considering Horned Lizards, read as much as possible and become proficient with the many care facts of this lizard before taking one on.
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The information contain in these care sheets represents only the opinions and husbandry care of members and therefore is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate or reflects the advice or opinions of It is always advised to seek additional information or the advice of a qualified veterinarian or qualified reptile dealer. It is also advisable for you to a good amount of research before implementing any of the ideas and care described in these care sheets. We also recommend you ask many questions in their related forums before acting on any information.

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