Cochise County Reptiles: The Regal Horned Lizard

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Facing the camera.

The regal horned lizard (aka Phyrosoma Solare) we encountered in southern Cochise County yesterday (here at home) was the first we’d seen on this acreage.  When my wife almost stepped on one–and would have but for its quick-scurry to get out of the way–we at first thought it was a different species, the Texas horned lizard.

We have plenty of those, love seeing them, and the mind tends to “see” what it expects to see, so….

The two species don’t look like identical twins or anything.  Sure, they’re wide-bodied, spiny all over (or close to it), relatively short tailed, ant eaters, and all of that.  But the regal had better camouflage.  Looked exactly like rthe red-clay-plus-caliche earth on which it was parked.  The Texas has mighty good camouflage, too, but not quite that good.

Once the single photo I snapped was enlarged on the computer screen, it was obvious this was no Texas version.  I began to cuss myself with considerable fervor, having passed up a great chance to get oodles of photos of the newcomer in the mistaken belief I already had hundreds of snapshots of this gal.

I later decided it was a gal simply because we got along so well.

Thankfully, the WLG’s, Wildlife Photography Gods, decided to have mercy on me.  Early this afternoon, under a leaden sky threatening rain, the same regal horned lizard turned up in almost the same place we’d seen it yesterday.

No strike two!  Nunh-uh!  Hang in there, Phyrnosoma Solare; you’re about to become a star!

Regal horned lizard. For whatever reason, this one has a stubbier tail than most.

This little cutie has a stubbier tail than most of her kind.  In other photos of the regal horned lizard, you’ll see the tail continuing its taper to a point.

So, why is there no pointy tip on this little critter?  We figure it has to be one of two things:

1.  A predator almost got the lizard but ended up with nothing but a tail-tip.

2.  This regal was born with a slight genetic anomaly, i.e. a stubby tail.

#2 seems the most likely.  No horned lizard runs very fast; any predator that got close enough to tail-nip should be able to catch the rest of the regal.

But that does bring up the subject of running.  We’ve seen many a Texas horned lizard run out here, though usually only a few feet or at most a few yards at a time.  They’re not exactly marathon runners.  Thus, when this girl decided she’d posed long enough in one area and took off running over open ground, my Canon PowerShot camera was delighted.

We (the camera and I) got several shots of the wide-load little beast in motion.  Strangely enough, there don’t seem to be many pictures of running horned lizards on Google Images.

Turns out their technique is a hoot to see in stop-action.  Hind feet stretch wa-ay  out, straight behind them as they go

Note the off hind leg, stretching wa-ay back, and…

(Wait for it….)

…fully extended.

She didn’t appear to  be running from me as such, just getting across a patch of open ground in a hurry.  Or in what passes for a hurry in a horned lizard.

The next stop produced even more photo opportunities.  Up to this point, there was no way this beastie had any intention of looking me in the eye.  Whenever I circled (keeping at a reasonable distance of 15 feet or more), she’d turn so that I was either behind her or at most somewhere to one side or the other.

No face to face stuff, Mister!  Mind your manners.

Still, I wanted a full-on face shot.  Persistence finally won out.  The regal stopped at a sizeable ant hole.  I circled to the far side, squatted down to take pictures while she hunted ants…and she finally gave it up.  Looked me full in the face. Kept doing it, too, spending more time staring my way than she did hunting ants, though she still managed to lick up a six-legged with her ant-hunting tongue every few seconds.

There was a feeling to it, the feeling that she’d come to realize I was on her side.

Friends forever.

Note how flat that super-wide stomach looks in the above photo?  It’s a pretty good guess this is a reasonably hungry regal horned lizard.  Maybe she’s come a long way, at least for one of her species.

Be that as it may, there are plenty of ants around here.  No ant eating lizard has far to walk (or run) to find ants to eat.    She seemed pretty casual about it, lapping up an ant, then another, then another, yet never appearing to be in any rush.

Of course, “rush” may not be in this lizard’s vocabulary.

For a time, until it started to rain, I kept clicking the shutter as she chowed down, hoping against hope to catch her tongue in act of snagging an ant.  That didn’t happen.  That lizard tongue is speedy.

Got a couple showing her in the act of getting ready to fire that tongue out there, though.

Ready…aim…

Fire!

Our first year here (2009), we became aware of the Texas horned lizard and the desert grassland whiptail lizard…but had no idea how little of the surface we’d scratched.  Since then, we’ve seen snake lizards (yes, they do exist), at least half a dozen different species that look like varying versions of the whiptail, and now the most welcome regal horned lizard.

By the time we’ve been living in the Border Fort for a couple of decades, the species count should be enough to help us truly understand comic stip heroine Little Orphan Annie’s trademark exclamation:  “Leapin’ Lizards!”

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