Thorny Devil Lizard Facts

Scientific Name: Moloch horridus

Thorny Devil Lizard
Thorny Devil Lizard In Arid Landscape.

Floriane Mangiarotti / Getty Images

Thorny devil lizards are part of class Reptilia and mainly live throughout the arid parts of Australia. Their scientific name, Moloch horridus, is derived from the Latin word meaning rough/bristly (horridus). These lizards get their name from the conical spikes across their whole body, and they can camouflage themselves in their environments.

Fast Facts: Thorny Devil Lizards

  • Scientific Name: Moloch horridus
  • Common Names: Thorny Devil, Mountain Devil
  • Order: Squamata
  • Basic Animal Group: Reptile
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Conical spikes on its head, body, and tail with a skin color of yellow and brownish-black.
  • Size: Up to 8 inches
  • Weight: 0.1 - 0.2 pounds on average
  • Life Span: Up to 20 years
  • Diet: Ants
  • Habitat: Dry desert, grasslands, scrubland
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Per meal, a thorny devil can eat anywhere from 600 to 2,500 ants with their sticky tongues.

Description

Thorny devils have cones and shields on their bodies that serve as camouflage and as retainers of any water they come in contact with. The colors of their skin range from brown to yellow as the time of day changes to effectively blend in with their arid environments. They have long tongues that allow them to catch ants, and their teeth are specially adapted to bite through the hard, chitin-rich bodies of ants. Females are generally larger than males, and they live 6 to 20 years in the wild.

Head of a Thorny Devil Lizard
Head of a Thorny Devil Lizard. Theo Allofs / Getty Images

These reptiles do not travel very far from their homes. They are not territorial and have been spotted in overlapping ranges of other thorny devils. They are also active from March through May and August through December. During the hottest (January and February) and coldest parts (June and July) of the year, thorny devils hide in burrows that they dig.

Habitat and Distribution

Thorny devils live in most of the arid regions of Australia, including the Southern and Western parts of the country. They prefer desert areas and spinifex grasslands. Spinifex is a type of spiky grass that grows in sand dunes.

Diet and Behavior

Their diet is made up exclusively of ants, eating anywhere from 600 to 2,500 ants in one meal. They locate these ants by moving very slowly to find trails and then waiting for the ants to come. They use their sticky tongues, similar to an anteater's, to pick them up. Additionally, thorny devils’ skin collects water from its environment and channels the liquid to its mouth to drink. In extreme circumstances, they bury themselves in the sand to get moisture from it.

Thorny Devil
Thorny Devil traveling on the sand. Luis Castaneda Inc. / Getty Images

Thorny devils are non-territorial and don’t travel very far from their homes. Their daily routine consists of leaving their cover in the morning to warm themselves in the sand, moving to their defecation site, and then returning to their cover along the same path while eating ants along the way. However, they will travel further distances between August and September when in search of mates.

To defend against predators, such as buzzards and Australian bustards (large land birds), thorny devils curl themselves to protect their head and expose a bony mass on their neck often referred to as a false head. This fools predators into attacking the knob instead of its real head.

Reproduction and Offspring

Mating season for thorny devils occurs from August to December. They travel long distances to converge at mating sites. Males attempt to attract females by bobbing their heads and waving their legs. Females fall and roll to throw off any males that meet their disapproval.

Females lay 3 to 10 eggs in burrows much deeper than their normal ones and fill in the holes to cover up any signs of the burrow. The eggs incubate anywhere from 90 to 132 days and then the young emerge. Males and females grow at similar rates for the first year, but females grow at faster rates up until age five.

Conservation Status

Thorny devils are designated as least concern as assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The organization found thorny devils to be very widespread and unlikely to be under any threat.

Sources

  • Dewey, Tanya. "Moloch Horridus". Animal Diversity Web, 2019, https:// animaldiversity.org/accounts/Moloch_horridus/.
  • "Moloch Horridus Adaptations". Dancing With The Devil, 2008, http:// bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2014/palmer_tayl/adaptation.htm.
  • "Thorny Devils". Bush Heritage Australia, 2019, https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/thorny-devils.
  • "Thorny Devil". The IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species, 2019, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/83492011/83492039.