Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Won't Appear On California’s Endangered Species List

December 9, 2016

The California flat-tails horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii), a cute little lizard that looks like a mini Triceratops, will not be placed on California’s endanger species list, as California wildlife officials stated December 9 that while the reptile has seen its population numbers dwindle in Coachella Valley, other populations are thriving in Southern California. State officials in February 2015 made it a candidate for species protections and started a study on the reptile to determine a status, which was handed down today. 

fat tailed horn lizard


The Southern California Flat-Tailed Horned lizard is disappearing due to agriculture and urban development.

The lizard is medium in size and features eight horns protruding from the back of its head. The lizard, which is not in the pet trade (due in part to the fact that it eats black harvester ants, an insect not commonly available), has the most limited range of any horned lizard species in the country, only appearing in the Colorado Desert in California, Arizona and Mexico. 

“The flat-tailed lizard, we believe, is sort of a bellwether for the health of the desert in the southern part of the state,” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which seeks to protect the lizard. The Center asked the state to protect the reptile because they claim the federal government, which called the lizard a candidate for federal protections back in 1982, had failed to conduct any studies to determine its status.

The lizard’s populations have been challenged by development, farmers and solar farms that have encroached on its native habitat. 

The flat-tailed horned lizard (and other horned lizards throughout much of the United States) are best left in the wild due to the fact that their diets across the United States consist almost exclusively of ants. That is why you hardly ever see them at pet stores or reptile shows. They don’t do well on any other insect except ants, which are virtually impossible to cultivate. The Southern California model grows two to four inches and and has the capability to flatten its sandy colored body to eliminate its shadow, a clever form of camouflage.

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