Morphological correlates of ant eating in horned lizards (Phrynosoma)

Jay J. Meyers, Anthony Herrel, Kiisa C. Nishikawa

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26 Scopus citations


The North American horned lizards (Phrynosoma) represent a morphologically specialized group of ant-eating lizards. Although variation in dietary fidelity is observed among the species, all appear to possess morphological specializations thought to be related to their ant-eating diets. Previous studies have examined morphological specialization in Phrynosoma, but they have not taken into account the phylogenetic relationships of its member species. In the present study, the morphological characteristics of the head, jaws and teeth that are thought to be important in prey capture and prey processing were examined to test whether variation in cranial morphology is associated with diet in lizards of the genus Phrynosoma. It is suggested that lizards of the genus Phrynosoma are indeed morphologically specialized and that ant-eating is associated with reduced dentition and an overall reduction in the robustness of morphological structures important in prey processing. Although this trend holds for the highly myrmecophagous species of Phrynosoma, a robust cranial morphology is apparent in the short-horned lizard clade (Phrynosoma ditmarsi, Phrynosoma douglasii, Phrynosoma hernandesi, Phrynosoma orbiculare), implying the ability to process a variety of dietary items. The present study suggests that additional feeding specializations exist within an already specialized clade (i.e. the short-horned lizard clade) and highlights the need for more detailed dietary and behavioural studies of feeding behaviour in this uniquely specialized group of lizards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-24
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Diet-specialization
  • Ecomorphology
  • Myrmecophagy
  • Phrynosomatidae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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