Desert Horned Lizard

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Perhaps the most bizarre reptile living in the Mojave Desert is the Horned Lizard. We tend to think of lizards here in the United States as sleek and fast-moving, but this creature is an exception.

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This species has a distinctive flat body with a row of fringed scales down its sides. Although it can run, it’s not particularly speedy.

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Their coloration varies, but generally blends in with the the surrounding soil; there usually is a beige, tan, or reddish background with contrasting, wavy bands of darker color.

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Horned Lizards are distinctive in appearance by virtue of the pointed, thick, spike-like scales that project from the backs of their heads.

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When excited, they puff themselves up with air to make them look larger. Their large, flat body surface also works well as a solar collecting panel to maximize their amount of exposure to the sun. They even tilt their bodies to catch more rays when thermoregulating.

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Being slower than other desert lizards, in response to a threat a Horned Lizard may play dead, run away, or in some case it may rupture small capillaries around its eyes and squirt a bloody solution at the would-be attacker.

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This lizard is usually encountered in relatively flat, open, areas with sandy or loamy soil and is less frequently encountered on rocky areas and foothills. It is not a lizard that I consistently find on my trips, even if I go back to spots where they were previously found.

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It feeds on ants and a variety of other insects, including beetles and the larvae of moths and butterflies. It also eats a variety of spiders and some plant material. It laps up small invertebrates with its tongue, much like a toad does.

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Some species of Horned Lizards produce live offspring, but the Desert Horned Lizard produces one or two clutches of eggs which are laid in Spring and Summer. Their clutch size ranges from 2 to 16 eggs. Although they are reptiles, Horned Lizards are also known as Horny Toads or Horntoads. No matter what you call them, these reptiles are fascinating creatures and a lot of fun to encounter in the wild.

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Mojave Rattlesnake

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By far the most commonly encountered venomous snake that I’ve come across on my many visits to the Mojave Desert is this one.


This highly venomous pit viper native to deserts in the southwestern United States is perhaps best known for its potent neurotoxic/hemotoxic toxin, which is considered the world’s most potent rattlesnake venom.

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The Mojave Rattlesnake’s color varies from shades of brown to pale green. The green version has led to them being known as “Mojave greens” in some areas. Like the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which it closely resembles, it features a dark diamond pattern along its back.

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This is not a particularly large snake – adults average about three feet in length. It lives mainly in the high desert and lower mountain slopes. Its habitat may vary from the dry desert to grasslands and scrub.

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The Mojave Rattlesnake eats Kangaroo rats and other rodents. It is primarily nocturnal, hiding under crevices or in burrows during the hot day. I’ve only encountered one in the daytime, but have seen dozens over the years crossing roads at night.

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Like other rattlesnakes, it gives live birth, averaging eight offspring. Baby rattlesnakes are born fully formed, ready to hunt, completely independent from their parents and able to defend themselves.


The Mojave Rattlesnake is one of the world’s most venomous snakes; it’s therefore always a thrill to encounter one while exploring the southwest.

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Red Pine

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This tree (also called Norway Pine) is one of the most extensively planted species in the northern United States and Canada. It is frequently used in Ohio as a reforestation pine tree and is valued for its lumber and pulpwood.

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Although a tree of the Northern Forest Region and not native to Ohio, isolated pockets can be found in northern Illinois, eastern West Virginia and Newfoundland. When growing under natural conditions, Red Pine reaches a height of 90-100 feet and a trunk diameter of 30-40 inches, with a tall, straight, clean trunk and an open, rounded picturesque crown.

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Red Pine has two medium five-inch long needles per bundle. They persist for up to four years on the twigs and branchlets, giving this pine tree a very dense appearance. The characteristic that sets the needles of this pine apart from other pines in eastern North America is their tendency to snap or break when bent.

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The bark of this tree is reddish-brown in color. On older trunks the bark becomes broken into wide flat-topped ridges separated by shallow grooves. This tree looks similar to the introduced Austrian Pine. However its reddish-brown bark helps to distinguish it.

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By the end of the first growing season, the green cones turn to tan in color. At maturity during the second season, the brown cones are about two inches long. The cone scales are smooth and without spines. The seeds are eaten by songbirds and small animals.

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During the Great Depression in the 1930s, millions Red Pines were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Most of the wooden telephone poles in Michigan and surrounding states are made of Red Pine.

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Red Pine is noteworthy for its very constant morphology and low genetic variation throughout its range, indicating it has been through a near extinction in its recent evolutionary history.

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Also known as a Woodchuck, this is a rodent belonging to the group of large ground squirrels. They are the largest members of the squirrel family. At about 20 inches long, Groundhogs weigh around 13 pounds. These mammals are found only in North America, from Canada down to the southern United States.


Groundhogs have sharp claws that they use to dig impressive burrows in the ground. Their burrows can be anywhere from 8 to 66 feet long, with multiple exits and a number of chambers.


Their favored habitat is woodland areas on the edge of open fields. Groundhogs are solitary creatures that can eat about a pound of food per sitting. A Groundhog’s diet can include fruit, plants, tree bark and grasses. One reason why they eat so much is because in the Winter they hibernate and live off their fat.


While hibernating, the Groundhog’s heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to 5 beat per minute; their respiration reduces from 16 breaths per minute to as few as 2 breaths per minute; and their body temperature drops from about 99 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 37 degrees.


In February, males will come out of hibernation and search for females’ burrows. When he finds one, he heads on in. It is believed that males do this to introduce themselves to possible mates.


Groundhog Day is a popular tradition celebrated in the United States and Canada on February 2. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and Winter will persist for six more weeks, and if he does not, due to cloudiness, Spring season will arrive early.

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The Groundhog is also referred to as a Chuck, Wood-shock, Groundpig, Whistlepig, Whistler, Thickwood Badger, Canada Marmot, Monax, Moonack, Weenusk and Red Monk.

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