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BULLETnature archive
Nature Archive Photo
© Tom Bean

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A Little Short
Although they’re only 5 inches long, greater short-horned lizards can hold their own — pick one up and you might end up with blood on your hands.

By Kelly Kramer

Catch a greater short-horned lizard off guard and you might end up bloody. Not because it'll pounce like a jungle cat and turn you into lunch, but because it might just shoot blood out of its eyeballs. Heidi Easudes learned that firsthand when she held one captive during a road trip to Prescott. She was only 11, so maybe she didn't know any better, but boy, that must have been quite a scene.

Ocular bloodletting is weird, but it's also an effective defense mechanism. It's intended to ward off potential predators because of its resultant onerous odor. In most cases, the lizard will puff itself up and charge with its horns first, but beware: projectile blood might be imminent.

As the name suggests, it's the horns that differentiate this variety of lizard from others in the horny-lizard category. A broad gap separates the two stubby central horns and a swath of pointed, horn-like scales cascades down the lizard's back. The lizard's lower extremities are also fringed with pointy scales.

On average, this midsized lizard model measures just shy of 5 inches from snout to vent, and it has a remarkable way of blending in with its surroundings, which means it can range in base color from tan to gray and various shades of brown. The lizards' backs are often marked with black blotches, while their chins and bellies are commonly red-orange or yellow-orange.

Although they're cold-tolerant, they hibernate during particularly cold winter months and save little lizard-making for the spring, when they move above ground to bask in the warm midmorning sun. Come summer, litters can include up to 48 newborn lizards, which must release themselves from a clear amniotic sac in order to survive.

Those that make it can be found throughout Northern, Central and Southeastern Arizona, from semidesert grasslands to conifer forests. They're known to frequent open, sunlit areas and shrubby plateaus, or anywhere they can find a steady, protein-filled diet of ants, beetles and grasshoppers. They are not, however, fond of family vehicles or girls named Heidi.

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