A horned lizard in West Golden Hills.

Contributed by Marsha Morris

Marsha Morris took this photo in West Golden Hills of a horned lizard. This one appears to be what is known as a Blainville's Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii), which in older books may be referred to as the Coast Horned Lizard.

Horned Lizards, also referred to as "horned toads," though they certainly aren't toads, are found in much of the Tehachapi Mountains and in the surrounding arid parts of Kern County. They look like miniature dinosaurs, with their crown of horns and pointed scales. These cute little lizards try to avoid capture in two different ways: they either remain motionless and hope that their cryptic appearance helps them blend in with their surroundings, which often works, or they briefly sprint for the shelter of a low plant. They can also bury themselves in the sand, but won't usually try that once they sense that they've been detected.

If they do get caught, they can squirt blood from the corner of their eyes, but most will not do this. It has been found that this defensive mechanism is most commonly triggered by dogs and other canines, so perhaps it evolved as defense against coyotes and foxes.

Horned Lizard numbers have dropped in recent decades, which is believed to be due mostly to habitat fragmentation and the disruption of their favorite food supply — ants. This specialized diet is also the reason that Horned Lizards make poor pets, even though they are fairly easy to catch. It is easy to grab them, but not easy to feed them a steady diet of ants. And not just any ants will do — they often prefer red harvester ants, and do not like the ubiquitous little black "sugar ants" that appear in kitchens during the warmer months.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.