Many animals practice convenient adaptations that allow them to stay alive -- and more comfortable -- successfully in the toughest of situations. Lizards, for example, frequently bury themselves in the ground as a survival mechanism. This behavior is commonplace in horned lizards (genus Phrynosoma) and fringe-toed lizards (genus Uma). Numerous different species exist for both types of these reptiles.
Beating the Heat
Horned lizards frequently attempt to retreat from the high temperatures of the daytime by burying their bodies in the sand. Digging is a favorite pastime of these wide-bodied reptiles. If temperatures get too harsh, these diurnal creatures sink their bodies into sand with loose and soft textures -- preferably in shaded areas close to shrubs. Their heads aren't visible once they do this. Once in a while, they even employ burrows that were previously carved out by other tiny animals as sanctuaries away from oppressive heat.
Hibernation of Horned Lizards
Not only do horned lizards flee inordinate heat by burying themselves into the sand, they also do the same for the polar opposite problem. Their desert environments can get pretty uncomfortably chilly in the evenings. Once nighttime comes around, they withdraw to the relaxation of hiding away in the ground. They also hibernate this way. In the autumn, horned lizards go down into the soil or sand only to remain there until the weather warms up months later in the springtime. They hibernate either in dirt that is thick and brittle or sand that is loose.
Hibernation of Fringe-Toed Lizards
Fringe-toed lizards, like horned lizards, also spend most of the winter months in hibernation. They typically bury themselves in November only to stay in the sand up until the promise of warmer temperatures draws closer -- think around February. In times of hibernation, fringe-toed lizards sometimes stay as far down in the sand as a maximum of 12 inches or so. Youngsters don't usually bury their bodies as deep. It actually is relatively common for younger specimens to stay busy throughout the entire year.
Horned lizards and fringe-toed lizards alike also bury themselves in the sand as a way of protecting themselves against dangerous predation. Some of the diverse types of animals that routinely prey on these lizards are hawks, badgers, foxes, coyotes, falcons, snakes and roadrunners. Fringe-toed lizards for one are notable for their swiftness. When faced with possible predation, they typically react by rapidly running away using their sturdy back legs. They then quickly dive down in the sand and vanish seemingly in an instant.
- Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: Desert Horned Lizard
- Lizards - Weird and Wonderful - Margery Facklam
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Phrynosoma solare
- Introduction to Horned Lizards of North America; Wade C. Sherbrooke
- Bureau of Land Management California: Colorado Desert Fringe-Toed Lizard
- Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California; Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife: California Wildlife Habitat Relationships
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images