Animal of the Month
October 2018

Name: Thorny Devil (AKA Thorny Dragon, Thorny Lizard, Moloch)

Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata
Family: Agamidae
Genus: Moloch
Species: M. horridus

Number of Species: One.
Size: 5.9-8 inches long.

Weight: 2.5-3.4 oz.

Characteristics: Small, four-legged, wide body, long curved tail, covered entirely in thorn-like spikes with one large rounded spike that serves as a "false head".
Color(s): Dark brown or sandy-colored with reddish-brown stripes.
Behavior:Diurnal, camouflages in the brush.

Preferred Habitat: Dry deserts.
Range: Central and Western Australia.
Diet: Insects, particularly ants.

Lifespan: Possibly up to twenty years.

Status: Currently not evaluated.

It looks like a dragon or a monster from a fantasy movie, but sometimes reality really is stranger than fiction! The thorny devil, also known as the thorny dragon, thorny lizard or the moloch is a curious reptile native to the deserts of western and central Australia. They are unique in that there are no other lizards like them in the entire world.

The thorny devil's scientific name is Moloch horridus. Moloch was a god the Canaanites worshipped through human sacrifice. "Horridus" means rough, bristly or dreadful. Despite this namesake and its fearsome appearance, the thorny devil is actually a most docile and gentle creature. It's only aggressive when males compete for mates during the mating season, otherwise it spends it days relaxing under desert brush or searching for food and water. They feast mostly on ants and termites as well as other insects, and can eat as many as five thousand insects in a single meal! Their armored body allows them to gather moisture from the air, which pools and flows into their mouths through the movement of their capillaries. They can drink water in the desert by just standing still!

Thorny devils are not aggressive, but they are masters of self-defense. They are known for walking slowly, jerking back and forth and freezing in mid-step. It is thought that this bizarre form of movement helps to camouflage them from predators. As their name suggests, thorny devils are covered in thorn-like spikes. These spikes protect them from predators like large birds and snakes. They also have a large round spike on the back of their neck called a "false head". This false head confuses predators and makes them less likely to attack. In addition, they curve their spiny tail upward to make themselves look bigger. Their sandy and brown coloration also helps them to blend in with the desert surroundings, and they can even change their colors when startled! All these defenses make it fairly tricky for any would-be predators to make a meal out of a thorny devil.

Thorny devils breed during August and September. After mating, the female thorny devil will dig a burrow and lay between three-to-ten eggs anytime from September through December. She will then bury the eggs and leave the eggs on their own. Three or four months later the baby thorny devils will hatch, eat their own eggshells and then dig their way to the surface. They will grow for about five years and will live perhaps as long as twenty years.

Thorny devils are not currently evaluated by the IUCN. While no major threats to their survival have been identified, it is known that humans occasionally hunt them. This is one of many strange and wonderful creatures that require more study so we can ensure their survival. Australia is a haven for biodiversity and unfortunately many species there are threatened. But, through conservation and hard work, it is certain that these natural treasures can all be preserved.

Want to see a thorny devil in action? Check out these awesome resources!

National Geographic video "Thorny Devil"-This delightful video shows the thorny devil in its natural habitat

BioExpedition-Animals, Biodiversity & Life


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