Friday, July 10, 2009

A Nice Little...

booger surprise awaited me a couple of weeks back when I when hiking at Madera Canyon. I went higher that day than I had previously making it to about 8,200 feet. It was one heck of a hike but still short of the top at just over 9,000 feet - and I only had about 1.7 miles to go at most. oh well, maybe next week - and I had better do it then because that will be my last full week here. But I digress since I wanted to talk about the surprise that awaited me at about 7,200 feet. As I hiked along I heard a rustling in the leaves near my feet. I looked down and their right next to me, almost under me, was this miniature dragon. Despite its tiny size it had horns on its head and sharp spiky spines all over its body much as a dragon of myth and legend would have. Of course I knew that this one was harmless and I took a few pictures of it while it sat there eyeing me, then shot a quick video (which did not come out) as it scampered about the forest floor searching for either a miniature castle to enflame or an ant to devour.

The critter in question is, of course, a Horned Lizard; but of what species I did not know. A quick check of my field guide revealed that it was a Mountain Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglassi hernandesi). They can grow to a length of 5 7/8 inches and I wish I had measured this one because I think it may have been close to or surpassed that measurement (well maybe that was just the altitude affecting my senses because I am sure it was smaller than that). No big deal though, not like I'd win a trophy or fame because I found the biggest one. Well anyway, these lizards are pretty neat little creatures. They are found from from Canada down into Mexico (this one and its related subspecies) in all of the states west of Texas (Texas excluded) and in all of the states north of Texas. A distinguishing characteristic of this species is the wide notch in the rear of the skull where the horns are absent. Of course, they get the "horned" part of their name from the horns that adorn their heads. They are out and about during the day and enjoy basking in the warmth of the sun. Apparently this guy was no exception and probably had been right out either on the edge of the leaves or in the middle of the trail when I disturbed it sending it into the leaf litter. This was a pretty healthy looking specimen and I suppose it had been getting its fill of ant and other insects. Unlike some species of horned lizards this one has a varied diet that goes beyond just ants. Along with ants it has also been known to eat a variety of other insects, bugs, snails and so on. My field guide even said they have been know to eat small snakes and I suppose that is possible given the small size of some snake species in the area but my guess is that would be the exception to the rule since they seemed built more for tackling bugs and such.

This was the first live Horned Lizard, of any species, that I have seen in the wild in over 10 years as I recall. They are not as abundant as they once had been but I don't recall them ever being truly abundant at that. So I left this little booger right where it was on the forest floor enjoying the fresh mountain air and bright sunshine and I was on my way.

All the best,
Glenn B