Horned Lizard Care

From time to time I get e-mail from people interested in what I've been doing to care for Dino (and now Fred and Wilma too). I'm by no means an expert, but I can pass on what I've been doing for Dino, Fred, and Wilma in hopes that it may help others who can then add their experiences.

A friend caught Dino on the other side of the Sierras in September of 1997; he's a California Coastal Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma coronatum. In July 2001 I addopted two Desert Horned Lizard's Phrynosoma platyrhinos and named them Fred and Wilma.

I've been keeping them happy on a diet of primarily ants (mail-order) and mealworms, crickets (the medium ones as Dino is small, and the large ones are supposed to have too much chitin and can clog them up), and wax worms and fly larvae on occasion. I used to get the harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex from:

Uncle Milton Industries, Inc.
P.O. Box 246
Culver City, CA 90230
(818) 707-0800

They are sold for ant farms, and they used to be cool about selling them for reptile food too. They sell tubes of 30 for $3 or 500 for $30. Shipping prices seem to change every once in a while, but ran $2 for the tubes, and $6.25 for the 500 last time I ordered. I used to get 500 at a time, but then they seemed to die pretty quickly, so I went back to tubes, and had them send a tube each week, and they would run my credit card once a month to cover the weekly shipments for the rest of the month. Later, I switched back to getting 500, and they lasted longer than two months, so it made sense. With tax and all, 4 weeks was $20.99, and 500 ants $36.25 and it's a lot more ants, so as long as they make it longer than 7-8 weeks you've made off pretty well. I suspect the length of time they stay alive has something to do with the weather.

For lack of supply, Uncle Milty cut me off to cover their ant farm customers in March of 2001, and I found Life Studies' Horned Lizard Food through a link at the Horned Lizard Forum on Kingsnake.com. Their ants run a lot less; 100 for $4, 150 for $6, 200 for $8, 500 for $10, 1000 for $20, and Priority Mail shipping is $3.50. I always get 500 ants at a time.

Life Studies
490 S. 400 W.
Hurricane, UT 84737
(877) 864-2207
Fax: (435) 635-9005

I keep the ants in a separate cage; it's an old reptile cage/aquarium that's about 2' long, 1' deep, 1' tall with sand, and pull the ants from there. The lizard's eat very different numbers of ants. Wilma and Fred eat similar quantities of ants, but Wilma always eats more. I've counted Wilma eating around 60 ants in one sitting, and I think she could keep going.

Dino has gotten pretty lazy knowing the lax life, so he pretty much just hangs out by his hot rocks and waits for ants to walk right up before he snatches them. Because he is not aggressive like Wilma and Fred, they always get the ants before he does. That aside, Dino has always eaten far less than Fred and Wilma; he eats maybe 10 ants in a sitting. Because of this, I frequently maim some ants for Dino by crushing their heads or putting them in the freezer until they are dead (this can take 10 minutes or they will come back to life).

Twice, Dino has kinda missed when he went to nab the ant and he's been stung in the nose... Yowch! I'm not sure if it is painful to him or not, but I did pull the stinger out of his nose right away (grab the stinger, not the sack as I think that would just pump in more formic acid). I know he's stung a lot on the roof of his mouth since I've seen him try to get stingers dislodged by doing something with his tongue and open his mouth a lot. When I see that he's strugling, I've taken him from his cage, and he'll open his mouth and I'll remove the stinger with tweezers.

The three lizards all live in one cage together. The cage is pretty big; about 6.5' long, 2' deep, and 1.5' tall on one side, and about 3' tall on the other side. There are two 100W spot lights. One is reasonably low, so kinda like a basking lamp. There is also a single UV full spectrum lamp, 36" long. Lizard's are supposed to need UV to help them absorb minerals/vitamins, and standard incandescent lamps don't put out much in the UV spectrum. Regular fluorescent bulbs do, but most of the UV is converted to visible light by the phosphor, so these special full spectrum/grow lights/reptile lights (ex. Vita¥Lite or Reptisun UVB310) use another set of phosphors or just don't have as much of the phosphor coating so some UV passes through. See US Patent No. 3,670,193 for more info. Also note that apparently the UV portion of the spectrum is depleted after a year, so the bulb should be replaced once a year. I don't understand this, but I have not had an easy way to test it. Fred, Wilma, and Dino have four hotrocks; one from a friend and I made the other three with resistors wired in series or parallel and fastened to the back of the slate rock with RTV or silicone and coated with more so you cannot get shocked. The hotrocks are either on the sand or buried under it scattered around the cage. There are about 2" of sand all over the cage, a few plants, abalone shells, drift wood, and some cool rocks. They mostly hang out by the hotrocks on or under a sheltering abalone shell.

As recomended, I try to dust their food with supplements, but I don't think he likes it as much; I use a 50/50 mixture of Rep-Cal's Calcium with Vitamin D3 and Herptivite. About two years ago, Dino started to eat the sand in the cage, apparently a sign that he was not getting enough minerals. Unfortunately the sand is primarilly silicon dioxide (SiO2), and not dirt which he could digest portions of, so it was not helping, and he clogged his bowels, and stopped eating. I started to force feed him, and give him Neo Cal Glucon Syrup (a sugar-calcium source), but when things didn't get better we went to see a herpetologist who gave him some oil orally to help loosen his bowels, and I soaked him in warm water a few times a day. After a second oil treatment he was fine, and he's been eating on his own ever since. Here's a note Dino sent off to some friends as his recovery was just beginning. The pet shops sell colored calcium carbonate (CaCO3) for cages, but his cage has 250lbs of sand, so to do that with these calcium carbonate "sands" would be a bit expensive, so I just used some powdered calcium carbonate as a top layer and later mixed it into the sand.

On rare occasion I've put Dino outside in a cage with wire mesh sides and top to give him some real sunlight.

Apparently horned lizards usually don't make it very long in captivity, a year max, but I suspect that's because they need the formic acid they get from the ants in the wild. All the guys in the local reptile pet shop kinda frown on me having lizards I catch in the wild, and especially the horned lizards, but they are always surprised to hear that I've had him so long.

Well, I hope that helps, and feel free to drop me a line if you have more questions. Good luck, and do send pictures or URL's.