The thorny devil (Moloch horridus), also commonly known as the mountain devil, thorny lizard, thorny dragon and moloch, is a species of lizard in the family Agamidae. The species is endemic to Australia
It is the only species of the genus Moloch.
It was first described by biologist John Edward Gray in 1841. Although it is the only species included in the genus Moloch, many taxonomists suspect that there may be another species left to be found in the wild. The thorny devil is only distantly related to the morphologically similar North American horned lizards of the genus Phrynosoma. This similarity is often considered an example of convergent evolution.
The names given to this lizard reflect its appearance: the two large horned scales on its head complete the illusion of a dragon or devil. The name Moloch was used for a deity of the ancient Near East, usually depicted as a hideous beast. The thorny devil also has other nicknames that people have given it, such as the “devil lizard”, the “horned lizard” and the “thorny toad”.
What characterizes the thorny devil?
The thorny devil grows up to 21 cm in total length (including the tail), and can live for 15 to 20 years. Females are larger than males. Most specimens have camouflage coloration in shades of brown and desert tan. These colors change from pale colors during warm weather to darker colors during cold weather
It is completely covered with conical spines that are mostly not calcified.
An intimidating set of spikes covers the entire upper body of the thorny devil. These spiny scales also help it defend itself against predators. It can also use camouflage and deception to evade predation. This lizard’s unusual gait consists of freezing and rocking as it moves slowly in search of food, water and mates.
The thorny devil also has a spiny“false head” on the back of its neck, and the lizard presents it to potential predators by dipping its real head. The “false head” is made of soft tissue.
The scales of the thorny devil are striated, allowing the animal to collect water by simply touching it with any part of the body, usually the limbs; the principle of capillarity allows water to be transported to the mouth through the skin.
Behavior and habits of the Devil Thorny Devil
The thorny devil usually lives in the arid scrub and desert that covers most of central Australia, the sand plains and deep inland sand desert, and the mallee belt.
The habitat of the thorny devil is more consistent with regions of sandy loam soils than with a particular climate in Western Australia.
It is covered with hard, rather sharp spines that deter predator attacks by making it difficult for predators to swallow. It also has a false head on its back. When it feels threatened by other animals, it lowers its head between its front legs and presents its false head. Predators that consume the thorny devil include wild birds and goannas.
It feeds mainly on ants, especially Ochetellus flavipes and other species of the genera Camponotus, Ectatomma, Iridomyrmex (especially Iridomyrmex rufoniger), Monomorium, Ochetellus, Pheidole or Polyrhachis. Thorny devils often eat thousands of ants in a day.
The thorny devil collects moisture in the dry desert by condensing dew. This dew forms on its skin first thing in the morning, when it starts to get hot outside. The dew is then channeled into its mouth in hygroscopic grooves between its spines.
During the rains, capillary action allows the thorny devil to absorb water from all over its body. Capillary action also allows the thorny devil to absorb water from wet sand. Absorption through sand is the thorny devil’s main source of water intake.