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Species Feature: Thorny Devil

The Thorny Devil, also known as the Thorny Lizard or Mountain Devil, is an iconic resident of arid grasslands in Australia’s central and western deserts. The unmistakable large, robust spikes are a unique feature of this Australian lizard. It’s scientific name, Moloch horridus, was inspirited by the poem ‘Paradise Lost’, written by John Milton. The poem describes the Canaanite god ‘Moloch’ as a “horrid King besmear'd with blood of human sacrifice” while horridus is Latin for rough or dreadful.

Video Courtesy of Dodo, by Keith Dorsch

The Thorny Devil feeds on ants, positioning themselves along an ant trail and picking them off with their tongues. Their method of drinking is far more interesting. The tiny channels between the scales of the lizards act like capillaries, bringing water from the ground up to the corner of the mouth (against gravity). This adaption allows them to drink from damp sand and dew from plants on cool, early mornings.

The variety of red, brown, yellow and white colours and uneven body shape allow the Thorny Devil to effectively camouflage in the desert environment. In fact, their robotic-like movement adds to their camouflage ability (see video below), as their frequent freezing makes them harder for a predator to detect.

Video Courtesy of Christopher Watson

In situations where they are confronted by a predator, they will lower their head to reveal a lumpy spike on the back of their neck. This lump is presented as a defence mechanism, keeping its head protected.

Where can I see the Thorny Devil with an expert guide?

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This three-day/three-night immersive adventure escapes the crowds, showcasing this beautiful desert region and the amazing flora and fauna that have evolved to thrive in this arid environment including numerous skinks, the iconic Thorny Devil, bush birds, raptor birds, Kangaroos, Common Wallaroos and fascinating insects. This small group adventure departs from Alice Springs to Uluru, or vice versa, inclusive of a sunset at Uluru, sunrise at Kata Tjuta, Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience and an early morning inspirational Rim Walk or stroll along the creek at Kings Canyon.

The best time of year to see them are the warmer months between September and April.

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Q: Is it true that Thorny Devils change colour?
A: Absolutely! In the morning when it is still cool, the Thorny Devils appear a dark olive-brown colour and get lighter as the temperature increases. When alarmed, or during warm weather, they appear a pale yellow/red as shown in the images above.

Q: Do Thorny Devils have any defence mechanisms, other than their spikes?
A: They do - by inflating their chests, they puff themselves to appear bigger and become more difficult for a predator to swallow.

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