As you roam the field this fall, be sure to take a break from scanning the horizon for game to look down at the ground once in a while. Not only will this help you avoid stepping on a cactus or a rattlesnake, you might also see one of Eastern Montana’s rarely seen critters — the greater short-horned lizard.
The greater short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi, or “horny toad” is a Species of Greatest Inventory Need (SGIN) in Montana due to insufficient data to determine their status.
The reptile was considered the second-most abundant reptile along the Missouri River in Montana in the late 19th century, second only to the western rattlesnake, but there isn’t enough data to accurately estimate current populations or distributions.
“There have been structured surveys conducted in Eastern Montana to try and determine status and distribution as well as proactively filling in data gaps; however, the elusive nature and cryptic coloration make them extremely difficult to locate,” said Heather Harris, wildlife biologist in Region 6, in a press release.
“This is where we can use outdoor recreationists’ help, because oftentimes people just accidentally come across one,” she added.
Harris and other biologists are seeking the help of folks out trekking around the countryside to provide incidental observations in addition to FWP's structured surveys.
“If you happened to observe one anywhere in the state, please record the location — get GPS coordinates if possible — and note the date, number observed, and take a photograph of it if you can,” she said.
Here are a few traits of the short-horned lizard:
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• Adult greater short-horned lizards are diurnal and active during the warmer daylight hours.
• Coloration is cryptic with the soil (blends in) and can vary by locality.
• The broad, flattened body separates this lizard from the other three lizard species regularly documented in Montana, and the range overlaps only with the common sagebrush lizard, which is much more slender.
• The head has a "heart-shaped" appearance when viewed from above.
• They are usually easiest to spot when they move and catch your eye.
Greater short-horned lizards are found in the eastern half of Montana, but in scattered locations throughout their range.
They inhabit ridge crests between coulees, and can be found in sparse, short grass and sagebrush with sun-baked soil.
They are also found in flats of relatively pebbly or stony soil with sparse grass and sagebrush cover.