The Weirdest Defense? This Lizard's Eyes Squirt Blood, Yes, Blood.


There is no end to the amount of crazy and bizarre things you can find in the animal kingdom. Here we have the Texas Horned Lizard and its some pretty bizarre defense mechanisms, like squirting blood to keep predators away.

For most animals, defense against predators is vital. But animals, especially small animals, are often eaten. Since life is about reproduction, anything that keeps a creature alive long enough for it to reproduce will be selected as a defense.

All in all, the next generation comes from the fertilized eggs of the previous generation.

The ‘Texas Horned Lizard’ is a master survivor. They have developed some effective methods to avoid being eaten by predators.

Horned lizards mostly live in dry places: from Guatemala and Mexico, through the deserts of Arizona and California, to the dry prairies of southern Canada. They are prey for hawks, shrikes, roadrunners, snakes, coyotes, foxes, wolves, bobcats, and even carnivorous grasshopper mice.

Instead of being sleek like an iguana, the horned lizards are built for defense. They have to be since so many things try to eat them.

They differ in color, size, and the number and arrangement of horns and spines along their backs. Most are about the size of a pack of playing cards. They have wide, flat bodies, like spiky satellite dishes, and short stumpy legs.

Camouflage is their first line of defense.

They match their colors to their background, blending in against the brown scrubby brush or the mottled grays of mud. While blending into the rocks may save the lizard from becoming a bird's prey, it does not stop a snake from making a meal of it.

Horned lizards also engage in “escape theory” in which when a predator is approaching, they do not respond by immediately fleeing.

If the lizard were to quickly flee as soon as it saw the predator approaching, it would increase the chance of the attacker using its fitness to hone in and capture it.

Neither defense works every time, but on average, standing still for a whip snake and running from a rattlesnake are a horned lizard's best bets.

But snakes, and some birds such as roadrunners, need to swallow their prey whole. That means they have to get their mouth around the entire body. A horned lizard will not make that easy.

Finally, there is the horned lizards' best-known defense: blood squirting.

They reserve this for two groups of predators: cats and canids, the group that includes dogs, coyotes, and wolves. 

The process is quite simple. A pouch below the lizard's eyes, the ocular sinus, swells as it fills with blood. With a sudden surge of pressure, blood forcefully squirts out in a stream that can travel up to 2m.

The blood contains a chemical that binds to receptors in the canid's mouth receptors that humans apparently lack.

The blood is most effective when delivered directly into the mouth rather than the eyes or nose. This might explain why horned lizards often wait until the last second, when they are already in their attacker's jaws, before squirting.

The lizards probably get the unpleasant chemical in their blood from their food. They mostly eat ants, and many eat highly venomous harvester ants.

This does have a downside, though: they even need a defense against their own food. A horned lizard will lap up its food with the tip of its sticky tongue. It does not chew the ants. Instead, before swallowing, it wraps the ants in strands of thick mucus secreted by special cells at the back of its throat. This protects the lizard from the ants' stings, allowing them to exploit a resource that most animals can't.

The lizards' ant-based diet might be what drove them to evolve so many defenses.

Of course, sometimes camouflage, armor, and squirting blood aren't enough, and a horned lizard gets eaten anyway. But even then they sometimes manage one last act of defiance: it's not unheard-of for a horned lizard to become lodged in the throat or stomach of a bird or snake, killing its attacker.

Besides, horned lizards have one last defense against death: they have lots of babies.

Their wide abdomens accommodate larger broods than most lizards, so they can give birth to up to 48 live offspring at a time, or lay up to 45 eggs.

Here is the incredible video of horned lizard squirting blood!

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