horned lizards

When threatened, horned lizards will shoot blood from their eyes as a last resort against predators. This usually scares them off (no shock there!)

Before we get into the bloody awesome defense mechanism of the Texas horned lizard (see what i did there?), let’s cover some basic facts about the species.

Texas horned lizards are reptiles native to North America, inhabiting south-central America and northern Mexico. Roaming around Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and (to no one’s surprise) Texas, these little guys cover quite a wide range.

horned lizards

In terms of their habitat, they are found living in deserts. To be a bit more specific, they typically inhabit arid or semi arid habitats in open areas with limited plant cover. Horned lizards are diggers, burrowing down for a variety of reasons including hibernation, nesting and insulation. For this reason, they are most commonly found in loose sand or loamy soils.

For the most part, horned lizards will eat ants that they find. However, they are by no means picky and will eat most insects or small critters. They are not hunters though, oh no. Horned lizards take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, sort of like a living trap. They will hide out and wait until something wanders too close before striking and devouring their prey. Sneaky little things aren’t they!

horned lizards

Horned lizards shooting blood

I hope you enjoyed that brief run down of these remarkable little lizards; hopefully it proved insightful and expanded you knowledge of the animal kingdom.

Anyway, now on to the real reason you’re here; horned lizards shooting blood from their eyes. That sounds absolutely insane, don’t worry i know. But it’s true!

Texas horned lizards unfortunately have an extensive list of predators. This list includes such creatures as coyotes, hawks, snakes and even humans. That means there is danger round every corner for the little guys. The next question is: how can such a small creature defend itself against such large and powerful predators.

That’s where shooting blood comes into play.

horned lizards

For this explanation, i’ll try to be as concise as possible but bear with me. Horned lizards have two muscles lining the veins around their eyes. These muscles, when contracted, cut off blood flow back to the heart while still allowing blood flow to the head. This causes a build up of blood in the ocular sinuses (tissue found just below the eye) of the lizard.

Contracting these muscles in an increasingly rapid manner means an even greater build up of pressure. This eventually climaxes with the rupturing of the thin sinus membranes and the release of the blood build up.

The blood is able to travel around 4 feet away from the horned lizard’s eye; an astounding feat for a lizard only around 14 centimeters in length. This process is known as ‘auto hemorrhaging’ and can surprisingly be done by the lizard multiple times within a short period if necessary.

This biological blood water gun isn’t only for scaring away predators though. Horned lizards will also fire off shots of blood to clear out any debris or dirt that finds its way into their eyes or ocular synapses.

Extra information

Animal-Club provides animal parties or animal handling workshops. You will be able to see, learn and interact with many wonderful animals with the help of our presenters. Our mobile zoo has many friendly animals such as rabbits, tarantulas, geckos, vinegaroons and more, perfect for an animal party. We can also come over to your school for an animal school visit or arrange for an animal workshop with us where the children can learn about looking after animals and animal behaviour, and have fun too.