Thorny Dragon: Incredible Looking & Supremely Talented

On June 16, 2014 by Tim Newman

Thorny Dragon - Moloch - australia

The thorny dragon (Moloch horridus), also known as the mountain devil and moloch, has to be one of the strangest things that lives and breathes on our earth. It’s the last surviiving member of the genus Moloch and it may as well have come from Venus. It gets its name from Moloch, a deity used in the near East which later became a name for the Prince of Hell.

It does seem a little harsh to call such a wonderfully adapted creature a demon from Hades, but I guess he does look pretty evil. These lizards grow up to 11 cm in length and can live up to 20 years.

The thorny dragon lives in the dead and dusty outback of Australia and has become supremely adjusted to this unforgiving environment. The thorny dragon’s weird, crusty outer-shell has a pretty amazing property. The dragon can collect water through every single part of its body, and by capillary action that water is transported to the corners of his mouth through hygroscopic tubes. That’s amazing isn’t it? So just from walking through a puddle or brushing the underneath of a damp branch he can collect water. The thorny dragon gets the majority of its water from collecting the dew that gathers on it throughout the night.

Thorny Dragon - Moloch - underside

The spikes work well as camouflage and of course, defense; not even a starving animal is going to relish the challenge of swallowing all those points, especially without a drink of water for miles. These guys, when threatened, pump themselves up with air making them look even less enticing, if you can believe such a thing. Having said that, the Australian monitor lizard species are hard to put off and thorny dragons have been found in their bellies. The occasional raptor probably has a go too.

Another of the thorny dragon’s oddities is that it sports a fake head; when under attack it dips its true head down and presents the safer alternative. You can see it on this next picture just behind his real head:

Thorny Dragon - Moloch - false head





Thorny dragon’s bear more than a passing resemblance to the horned lizards of America but they are only very distantly related. Scientists believe their looks were formed by convergent evolution i.e. mother nature found the same answer to an environmental challenge in two separate locations. Despite looking pretty similar when you look inside, their anatomy is pretty different. The picture at the top shows the skull of a horned lizard showing bones pushing right into the tips of the skull, whereas the thorny dragon at the bottom has no bones in its spikes at all.

Thorny Dragon - Moloch - comparing horned lizard skull

The thorny dragon mostly eats ants which aren’t very nutritious and have some pretty nasty toxins in them, to this end the thorny dragon has a relatively large stomach and can hoover up thousands in a 24 hour period. Their normal estimated feeding speed is around 24 to 45 ants per minute.

Please join me in a toast to the rather incredible thorny dragon.

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