May 2009
A Rare Find
Photos and story by Gerry Hans

A Horned Lizard in Griffith Park

Dan Cooper, a local biologist doing work for the Griffith Park Natural History Survey, has been trying to find a horned lizard in Griffith Park for about three years now. So when he finally found one last month, and then I found one the very next morning, lots of people were thrilled about the lizards’ continued presence in Griffith Park.

I was on a trail high above the Oaks near Brush (Bronson) Canyon, directly East of the Hollywood sign when I found my horned lizard. It being high on my list of species to locate in the Park, I was intentionally looking in all the right places that Saturday morning in April, especially sun-exposed ridge line trails with loose soils.

Horned Lizards are tiny.

But when the sighting happened, I was still shocked to the point of almost not believing my eyes. I saw him from a pretty good distance. After quietly switching my camera lens to telephoto (with hands shaking), I snapped a few shots thinking that he would run into the brush if I got any closer.

Surprisingly he did cooperate, and I actually was able to watch him for quite a while. But then he disappeared in a flash, burying himself under shallow loose dirt, the behavior for which this species is known. I didn't disturb him from his hiding spot. He had put on a thrilling show for me!

The Horny Lizard before burying itself in the loose dirt...

... and after. He is still in the same spot!

It was later that day that I found out from Dan Cooper that he had seen a horned lizard near Cahuenga Peak the day before! The photos I shot made it onto some local blogs, including

Over the last few decades, the numbers of coast horned lizards have diminished greatly mostly because of urban development. Dan says they need to have loose sand to bury themselves and have a good ecological relationship with native harvester ants (the big red ones) on which they feed. Unfortunately harvester ants have been overrun by the nonindigenous native Argentine ants–the ones we often see in our kitchens.

The lizard is not on any endangered species lists, but the California Department of Fish & Game considers it a Species of Special Concern and the U.S. Forest Service puts it in their sensitive category. I’m sure there are some Oaks hikers who may have seen horned lizards in past years, but probably not as many in recent years. Some people may think they are just ugly, spiny critters. I think they’re beautiful and have a special place here in Griffith Park.

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