Skip to Content

Traveler Beware: Goat Head Thorns Are the Worst

Traveler Beware: Goat Head Thorns Are the Worst

Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never experienced the pain of a goat head thorn. They may be small, but their bite is mighty. If you’re a traveler, you’d better keep an eye out for them. If not, you’ll quickly realize when you encounter one. Trust us; you’ll know when you come in contact with one. Consider this your warning; goat head thorns are the worst! Read on to learn more about goat head thorns and why you should avoid them.

The Goat Head Thorn And You!

What Is a Goat Head Thorn?

The goat head thorn is a vicious plant with sharp, spiky seed pods. Many refer to it as puncturevine because of its ability to puncture various materials. It thrives in hot and dry conditions, and you can often find it in the southwest and Rocky Mountain states. It is an invasive weed that can quickly spread and requires effort to remove.

What Does a Goat Head Thorn Look Like?

Goat head thorns are tiny balls with several spikes. The flowers are half an inch wide and yellow. They typically bloom between late spring and early fall. As they age, the burrs lose their green color and turn gray or tan.

The vine-looking plant extends from a central point and grows very low to the ground. If you leave it unattended, the plant can grow very large and be hard to control. 

The individual seeds break off and resemble a goat head with two horns when looking straight at it. This is where it gets its name.

Close up of goat head thorn
Goat head thorns may be small, but they can cause massive pain.

Are Goat Head Thorns Poisonous?

Goat head plants are poisonous to some livestock and pets, especially sheep. Animals will typically recover unless they consume a large amount of the goat head plant. However, the plant’s toxicity is only one of the concerns you should have for livestock and pets.

The sharp spikes on the seed pods can cause injuries to an animal’s mouth and digestive tract. In addition, animals may step on them and injure their feet. 

Why Do Goat Head Thorns Hurt So Much?

Goat head thorns hurt because their spikes are incredibly long and sharp also while being very strong. They can press into a person’s or animal’s foot very deeply because they point upwards and are very strong to hold up to your weight. Trust us; whether it punctures your foot or any other body part, it’s not a pleasant experience. They are rigid and sharp enough to press through the rubber soles on your shoes. So it’s crucial to look out for these feisty plants on trails or walking in grassy areas.

Pro Tip: Apart from packing a first aid kit, make sure you pack these things for your first time camping.

hiking in goathead territory
Keep an eye out while hiking for goat head thorns.

Where Do You Find Goat Heads?

Goat heads are all over the world, but in the United States, they’re primarily in the southwest and Rocky Mountain states. You’ll usually find them in rocky areas that have been compacted, which makes them a common sight along roadsides, construction areas, and near railroad tracks. In addition, you’ll find them in yards, fields, and pastures.

The plant can spread quickly if a goat head plant gets into a yard. Mowing over these weeds will typically only spread the seed pods, which could germinate and create a new plant. Before you know it, you’ll have a yard full of them. When this happens, you won’t be able to walk through your yard without risking stepping on one of these spiky weeds.

goat head location geography
Goat heads are mainly found on the western side of the country

Can Goat Head Thorns Harm Animals?

Goat head thorns can harm animals, primarily pets, sheep, and livestock. This can result in ulceration, necrosis, and edema. In addition, if an animal were to step on one of the thorns, the thorn could lodge into its paw. This could become infected and hinder the animal’s ability to walk. 

Since these thorns typically sprout in multiples, where there’s one, there are commonly others nearby. This means that animals will likely have multiple thorns on their feet if they encounter them.

Not only can these thorns harm the outside of an animal, but they can also harm the inside. If an animal eats one of these plants, it could cause severe damage to its mouth and digestive system.

Can Goat Head Thorns Pop Tires?

If you plan to bike or drive in areas with goat head thorns, you must prepare for them. Goat head thorns can easily pop bicycle tires and potentially puncture a car’s tires. It’s a good idea to fill any tires with a product like Slime to help prevent punctures in tires. If not, you could end up with a flat tire.

Slime 10004 Dirt Bike Tube Puncture Repair...
  • Don't let a flat ruin your day, let Slime's Dirt Bike tube...
  • Slime Tube Sealant seeks out and instantly seals punctures in...
  • Use Slime Tube Sealant with an air source to prevent punctures,...

Pro Tip: Make sure you know these Essential Dog First Aid Basics to keep your furry friends safe while you explore.

Goat head thorn bush
Goat head thorns can be poisonous to animals.

How to Remove Goat Head Thorns

If you or an animal has a goat head thorn puncture, you want to remove the thorn as soon as possible. If not, it will be a painful experience. Let’s look at a few things you should do to remove goat head thorns.

Remain Calm

You must stay as calm as possible. Will a puncture hurt? Absolutely. However, losing control will not make the situation any better or less painful. Take a deep breath and relax as best as you can. Breathe through the pain. Ask for assistance to help you take the weight off your foot if you step on the thorn.

Leave the Thorn-Infested Area

If you don’t leave the thorn-infested area, you will likely only worsen the situation. You could continue to step in the goat heads. Watch where you step while leaving the site and get out as quickly and carefully as possible. 

Use Tweezers to Grip the Thorns

Once you’re safely out of the thorn-infested area, use a pair of tweezers to get a solid grip on the thorns to remove them. Pull them directly out and away from your skin to minimize damage. Do not attempt to use your hands, as this will likely result in the thorns puncturing your fingers.

If you do not have tweezers, using a credit card to slide along your skin can help dislodge the thorns from your body. Be as careful and gentle as possible, but depending on how many thorns and deep they are, it will not likely be the highlight of your day.

Wash the Skin with Soap and Water

Once you have removed all the thorns, thoroughly wash the area with soap and warm water. You want to ensure that no bacteria get into the wounds and cause an infection. Keeping the wound clean can help avoid any potential issues.

Use Antibiotic Ointment

After thoroughly cleaning the wounded area, you should apply some antibiotic ointment. This will help ensure the wound heals quickly and minimizes recovery. This is highly effective, especially with minor injuries from goat head thorns.

Close up of woman hiking in sandals.
If you encounter goat head thorns, stay calm and remove the thorn before thoroughly cleaning the wound.

Tips From Goat Head Thorn Survivors

We’ve encountered goat head thorns during our adventures and lived to tell about it. Was it pleasant? Absolutely not. Do we want to go through it again? Not in a million years. However, we understand that no matter how careful we are, it will happen again.

However, we now take precautions like wearing thick-soled shoes when we’re in goat head territory. We also learned that you should never go barefoot in these areas and that it’s crucial to check the site before letting pets roam around a campsite.

Once you become familiar with plants, they’re easy to recognize. This can make it much easier to spot the pesky pricklers in an area. If you see the plants on the ground, there’s a chance their thorns are all over the place. You’ll want to avoid these spots with your pets and bicycles.

How to Control Puncturevine

Avoid Goat Head Thorns When Possible

You should avoid goat head thorns whenever possible. However, sometimes they’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it. You can’t only enjoy the views; you must keep your eyes ahead and watch where you’re stepping.

If you take the proper precautions, you and your pets can enjoy the great outdoors in goat head thorn areas. Having the appropriate footwear is only the start. You must stay alert and know what to look for when you’re out in the wilderness.

Will your next adventure lead you into goat head thorn territory? Tell us in the comments!

Become A Mortons On The Move Insider

Join 10,000+ other adventurers to receive educating, entertaining, and inspiring articles about RV Travel Destinations, RV Gear, and Off-Grid Living to jump-start your adventures today!

About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

About Us

Sharing is caring!

Martha Effinger

Sunday 12th of February 2023

We used to live in the Upper Mojave Desert and goat head thorns were everywhere. Using a comb to remove them is an easy fix even on dogs.

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 12th of February 2023

Thanks for the tip! They sure are everywhere in that region.