The Horned Lizard Shoots Blood From Its Eyes!

Have you ever been so mad that you ‘saw red’?

Well, take a seat. The short-horned lizard gives this saying a whole new meaning.

The horned lizard shoots blood from its eyes as a defense mechanism. If it feels threatened, it has no problem squirting blood from its eyes into the mouths and eyes of predators.

Let’s look at why and how this happens and other strange behaviors of this and other lizards worldwide.

Key Takeaway:

The short-horned lizard squirts blood from its eyes to defend itself from being eaten. It is a final defense response when its life is threatened.

Do Horned Lizards Shoot Blood From Their Eyes?

Yes, the horned lizard has a bizarre self-defense strategy. When defending its own life, this lizard shoots blood from its eyes!

Take a look at this weird protection mechanism in the video below from National Geographic:

Blood Squirting Lizard | National Geographic

A lizard that squirts blood

How Do They Shoot Blood From Their Eyes?

Thin blood vessels surrounding its eyes rupture when under pressure, causing blood to squirt from its eye sockets. However, the process is a bit more complicated than that.

Warming up body temperature isn’t easy in cold-blooded reptiles like the horned lizard. While basking in the sun does help, reptiles don’t heat up their body evenly in the same way we do. Instead, their heads heat up faster than the rest of their body, and their blood flow keeps heat from being redistributed properly.

The primary way blood goes in and out of the head is via a parallel blood vessel that serves a dual purpose–like a roadway. This isn’t an issue if your body temperature is the same throughout. But for lizards, it means that warmer blood flowing out of the head is pressed up against cooler blood coming into the head.

So, how does this lizard fix the problem?

It creates a forced detour. It’s developed rings of muscle around the primary veins that flow out of the head, pinches off the blood flow, and forces it to spots where heat-stealing arteries aren’t an issue.

This blood flow detour has a useful application in the regal horned lizard. As blood continues to pump into their heads, it is temporarily trapped, which builds pressure and causes the tissue surrounding the eye to swell.

As the pressure builds, they continue pushing further through their sinus walls and force blood out through their tear ducts. The pressure is so intense that they can shoot blood up to 6 feet (1.83 m) away!

The process goes like this when in action:

A horned lizard feels threatened by a predator.

  • The rings of muscle surrounding their veins cut off blood flow to the head.
  • Pressure builds, and blood pools in their thin sinus membranes.
  • Their eyes become puffy.
  • They have a loaded weapon in their eye sockets, ready to aim at any time.
  • Their touch receptors on their head are stimulated.
  • The lizard squirts blood from its eyes to ward off would-be predators.

This entire process takes place in seconds, depending on how close their predator comes to their head.

short horned lizard blood eyes

Other Reasons Their Eyes Squirt Blood

In addition to threats from predators, the horned lizard also uses this process to clean its eyes. Because they live in rugged, dusty habitats, dirt, and dust often build up in their eyes.

Lucky for the short-horned lizard, it can control the auto-hemorrhaging process to clean out irritating particles in the eye without fully squirting blood every which way.

What Are The Horned Lizard’s Predators?

Speaking of predators, which animals are considered a big enough threat to the horned lizard that it shoots blood from its eyes at it?

Like other small dessert dwelling reptiles, horned lizards have many predators, including coyotes, hawks, snakes, bobcats, road runners, grasshopper mice, foxes, and humans.

However, humans do not typically elicit this defense mechanism from horned lizards. Only when an animal attempts to eat the lizard, placing it in their mouth, they start shooting blood.

Facts About Horned Lizards

southern desert horned lizard

Want to learn more about regal horned lizards? Here are a few facts about this strange reptile.


Short-horned lizards are found in North and Central America. You can find them as far north as Canada and south as Mexico.


They are known as the short-horned lizard, the regal-horned lizard, and the horned toad, but they are lizards regardless of their nickname.


Their number one food source is ants, but they also eat other small insects they can find. They never stalk their prey. Instead, they use a combination of patience and fast reflexes to strike their insect prey as it approaches them closely.


Wild horned lizards are experiencing a decrease in their population because their natural habitat and prey are shrinking. Frequent use of pesticides to kill ants has reduced the food supply.

Weird Behavior

Before lizards squirt blood, they often flatten themselves out and inflate their bodies to nearly twice their normal size. They also change the color of their throats to be more vibrant, orange or yellow, to warn predators.


Short-horned lizards come in various colors but tend to match up with their surrounding landscape. Their camouflage is their number one defense mechanism against predators.


This lizard gives birth to live babies who become fiercely independent almost as soon as they are born.

Is The Texas Horned Lizard Venomous?

Anytime a reptile has horns, humans wonder if they’re venomous. In the case of the horned lizard, the answer is no. They are not venomous. This lizard is harmless to humans. Conversely, horned lizards eat harvester ants, which have nasty bites, inject venom, and are a serious nuisance to humans. Horned lizards have an oversupply of mucous in their throats, preventing them from being stung or bit by harvester ants.

Does The Short Horned Lizard Make A Good Pet?

Because we are the OddlyCute blog, you might think the short-horned lizard can become your next pet. Unfortunately, this lizard species does not make a good pet. Their diet consists of ants that are almost impossible to source or buy in a pet store. Also, don’t mistakenly believe you can catch a short-horned lizard in the wild and turn it into your newfound pet. This is dangerous to the lizard and the environment.

How Big Is The Short Horned Lizard?

The short-horned lizard is considered a small to the medium-sized lizard. It reaches anywhere from 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) to 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) in length, so many people mistake them for toads.

They are quite the sight with short horns poking out from their back (giving them their name), and a short blunt head.

Other Lizard Self-Defense Mechanisms

In addition to the short-horned lizard, other species of lizards will use defensive behavior to ward off predators.


For example, geckos have super thin skin covered in small, granular scales, and they typically rely on camouflage and nighttime activities to keep predators at bay.

However, because their skin is so thin, if a predator attacks them, they’ll rip out of their skin to escape. Similar to tear-away jerseys, geckos can easily remove their skin if they feel threatened enough.

Frilled Lizard

The Frilled lizard, on the other hand, will do some super weird things if it feels threatened. It rises on its back legs, opens its yellow mouth, and uncoils a colorful, pleated skin flap encompassing its head, and then it hisses.

If a would-be attacker isn’t impressed by this courageous display, the frilled lizard will turn around, mouth and frill remaining open, and sprint as far away as possible. It will continue to run away without looking or stopping to see the sights until it is completely safe.


Another interesting lizard is the chameleon. Most people know that the chameleon can change its color to match its environment; however, why it does this is less widely known. For this lizard, changing colors is a matter of protection. They also communicate through their body language. When an intruder chameleon tries to move in on its turf, they turn sideways. This makes them look bigger than they are and helps them keep their territory. When threatened, chameleons may also open their mouths to scare off the threat.

Desert Iguana

The desert iguana is one of the most territorial reptiles. Both genders mark their territory with fluorescent chemicals from their femoral pores. Females create home ranges to prevent anyone from moving in on their turf, while their male counterparts mark territory.

Male desert iguanas also do push-ups to show how strong they are–em–how aggressive they can be. They stay on high alert, and they’ll move back into their burrows at the first sign of any issues.

Both male and female desert iguanas inflate themselves to twice their body size. This helps them stand up to threats if retreating into their burrow isn’t an option. If they’re already in their burrow and being attacked, they will use this trick to prevent a predator from pulling them out of the safety of their home.

horned toad

Yes, There Is A Blood Squirting Lizard–Now You Know All About It!

The short-horned lizard is a bizarre creature with one of the weirdest evolutionary adaptations: the ability to shoot blood from its eyes.

The short-horned lizard also:

  • Weighs less than a quarter
  • Gives birth to live young instead of laying eggs
  • Eats harvester ants primarily
  • Uses the same process to shoot blood from its eyes as it does to clean them

We hope you loved learning about this odd lizard and its final defense response. If you did, please leave a rating for the article below or share it with your family and friends.

Learn more about various reptile species by following the OddlyCute blog.

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