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Blood-squirting lizards hatch at L.A. Zoo

January 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles Zoo is celebrating what it's calling a milestone event.Nine giant horned lizards hatched at the L.A. Zoo, which is the first ever hatching in a North American zoo. These lizards have a rare talent to ward off predators that's a little graphic.

It's a rare sight. Although not witnessed at the zoo, this rare species is best known for its ability to squirt blood out of its eyes when threatened.

Giant horned lizards are extremely rare in zoos. Very little is known about the species. They originate in western portions of Mexico and permits are rarely authorized to move the species.

"Their habitat's been fragmented so there are little pockets of natural habitat where the horned lizards are doing very well," said Ian Recchio, a curator at the Los Angeles Zoo. "But those pockets are just here and there. So they are rare and at some point will be in danger of extinction."

Currently, the lizards are too young to put on display.

"We weren't sure that we could raise all of these little babies up," said Recchio. "It's a difficult animal to raise under the best of circumstances. We've done it. All nine of the animals have survived, which is pretty outstanding. It was beyond our expectations really."

When they first hatched in late November, they were about the size of a nickel. They should grow to 10 inches full size.

Just don't go rushing off to the zoo to see them yet. The reptiles won't be on display until the Living Amphibians Invertebrates Reptiles Center, or LAIR, is completed in fall of 2011.

"We've got some reptiles on display. We have Komodo dragons and large tortoises," said Recchio. "But the meat of the collection, about 90 percent of our herpetology collection, is being worked with behind the scenes. And that will all go on display later this year in the LAIR."