Thorny Devil

Thorny Devil

Mountain devil, Thorny lizard, Thorny dragon, moloch

Moloch horridus
Population size
Life Span
15-20 yrs
28.5-57 g
21 cm

Thorny devils are small lizards native to Australia. These unique creatures are colored in camouflaging shades of desert browns and tans. These colors change from pale colors during warm weather to darker colors during cold weather. Thorny devils are covered entirely with conical spines. These thorny scales also help to defend them from predators. These lizards also feature a spiny "false head" on the back of their neck, which they present to potential predators by dipping their real head. The "false head" is made of soft tissue.



Thorny devils are found in the Southern and Western parts of Australia. They live in the arid scrubland and desert that covers most of the central part of the country, sandplain and sandridge desert in the deep interior and the mallee belt (a region in southern Western Australia). Thorny devils can also be found in shrubland and Acacia woodland.

Thorny Devil habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Thorny devils lead a solitary life and are active during the day. They live in burrows that they dig themselves and don't travel far from their shelters. Thorny devils are not territorial and their home ranges can overlap with other individuals. They usually remain active in March-May and in August-December. From January to February and in June-July, Thorny devils hibernate in their burrows. In order to defend themselves from predators, these little creatures use their hard sharp spines that dissuade attacks by predators by making them difficult to swallow. They also roll themselves into a ball when they feel threatened by lowering their head between their front legs, presenting their "false head". This usually confuses predators and they attack the knob instead of the real head of Thorny devils.

Group name

Diet and Nutrition

Thorny devils are carnivores (insectivores). They feed mainly on ants and often eat thousands of these insects in one day.

Mating Habits

90 to 132 days
3-4 months
3 to 10
at birth
3-10 eggs

Thorny devils mate from August to December. During this time males try to attract females with the help of display that involves head bobbing and waving their legs. After mating females lay a clutch of 3 to 10 eggs in a nesting burrow about 30 cm underground. The eggs usually hatch after about three to four months. Once the young hatch, they are left to fend for themselves.


Population threats

There are no major threats to Thorny devils at present.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Thorny devil is locally common but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Thorny devils are very important for the ecosystem of their habitat. Being ant-specialist predators, they hugely influence their local communities.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The names given to Thorny devils reflect their appearance: the two large horned scales on their 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. Thorny devils also have other nicknames people have given them such as the "devil lizard", "horned lizard", and the "thorny toad".
  • Thorny devils have ridged scales that allow the animals to collect water by simply touching it with any part of the body, usually the limbs; the capillary principle allows the water to be transported to the mouth through the skin. And in extreme circumstances, Thorny devils may simply bury themselves in the sand and get moisture from it.
  • Thorny devils have a very unusual gait; it involves freezing and rocking as the animal moves about slowly in search of food, water, or mates.
  • Thorny devils can eat up to 3,000 ants at a time.
  • Thorny devils can inflate their chests with air to appear bigger for predators and scare them as it makes it harder to swallow them.


1. Thorny Devil on Wikipedia -
2. Thorny Devil on The IUCN Red List site -

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