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Facts About the Thorny Devil

Sucheta Pradhan
Thorny devils, the weird-looking lizards with spines, are much gentler than their scary looks portray. This story brings to you some interesting facts about these curious creatures.

Did You Know?

In ancient times, the term Moloch, another name for the thorny devil, was used in demonology of the Near East, with reference to fallen angels.
The thorny devil, a.k.a. thorny dragon, mountain devil, thorny lizard, or moloch, as the name suggests, is a lizard that has thorny spikes all over its body. Scientifically named as Moloch horridus, it belongs to the family Agamidae, and is the sole species of the genus Moloch in the world. This creature is found primarily in large parts of Central Australia, and in some parts of Western Australia.
In 1841, a British zoologist named John Edward Gray presented a first ever description of the creature. Owing to the fact that the thorny devil is the sole species in its genus, some biologists have suggested that its closest relative on the planet may be the 'North American horned lizard', which belongs to the genus Phrynosoma. Both species have certain similar features like the horns, which may be due to convergent evolution phenomenon.


➦ One of the strangest lizards in the world, the thorny devil's body is covered entirely with uncalcified conical spines. These spines give the creature a thorny appearance, hence the name.
➦ An interesting feature of the horny dragon is the fact that it bears a false head, just on top of its real head. This is used to deceive predators.
➦ As scary and dreadful as they may look, these lizards are actually not very big in size. They can grow up to 20 cm long.
➦ Their average lifespan, in the wild, is around 20 years.
➦ The most astonishing thing about these creatures is their ability to change colors, a camouflaging mechanism. Depending on various factors, such as weather, time of the day, and the place where they are, they can take on various shades of desert browns and tans.
➦ It has ridges along its entire length. These ridges act as tiny channels that can collect morning dew and water from the desert sand. The ridges also enable water to reach the reptile's mouth by means of capillary action, thus enabling it to consume the stored water.
➦ The thorny devil has a very unusual gait, and strolls very slowly through the desert sand.


➦ The thorny devil is adapted to harsh arid environment. It is usually found in the arid brushes of Central Australia, whose landscape is dominated by shrubs and grass.
➦ It is also found in the sandplain and sandridge deserts of Australia, and also on the red sands of the Peron Peninsula.
➦ They dig underground burrows for themselves, and sometimes even make their nests under shrubs, so that they can remain protected from the extreme heat of the desert.

Defense Mechanisms

➦ The sheer look of the thorny devil is its primary defense mechanism. Many animals do not approach the lizard owing to its thorny appearance.
➦ The camouflaging ability of the reptile is another important defense mechanism which helps it to hide itself, whenever it senses danger.
➦ In order to protect itself from pecking predators, such as birds, the thorny devil lowers its real head and hides it between its forelimbs. Now, the part exposed to the predators is the false head that bears sharp spikes, enough to evade them.
➦ When it senses danger, the creature stands motionless in one spot. Due to its camouflaging abilities, predators are unable to spot it easily.
➦ If a larger predator attempts to flip the lizard, it can save itself from falling over, by placing its curved, spiny tail against the earth.
➦ Also, when in danger, a thorny dragon can puff up like a ball, and seem bigger than it actually is. This sudden increase in size, often helps to ward off predators.

Feeding Habits

➦ Despite their intimidating appearance, which may seem scary even to the human eye, the thorny devils are gentle and timid creatures, feeding primarily on ants.
➦ Generally, ants belonging to the Iridomyrmex or the Ochetellus genera, seem to be their favorites.
➦ A single meal of an adult consists of around 5,000 ants, which it laps up with its tongue.
➦ A young lizard can ingest up to 1,000 ants in a single meal.

Mating and Reproduction

➦ The thorny devil matures after three years. Its breeding season is generally between August and December, each year.
➦ These lizards have rather elaborate rituals of courtship, that include waving their legs, bobbing their heads, and walking in a peculiar gait to attract the females.
➦ Each clutch contains about three to ten eggs. In order to protect them from predators, the eggs are laid in a burrow that is dug about 30 cm underneath the earth.
➦ The incubation period lasts about three to four months, however, if the climate is warmer, the eggs may hatch earlier.
➦ Once the eggs hatch, the young ones are left to fend for themselves almost immediately.
Though the thorny devil is not currently endangered, its population is falling at an alarming rate. These animals are commonly seen lying on roads being run over by vehicles. Due to their color and appearance, they are sometimes mistaken as twigs. However, in Australia, which is the home of the thorny lizard, they have been protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act, 1950.