Thorny Dragon Australian Thorny Devil

The thorny dragon (Moloch horridus), also known as the thorny devil, is a spiny lizard that lives in the scrublands and deserts of Australian Outback. It is about 20cm in length and has an orange, yellow and black body which changes colour. In warm temperatures the lizard is usually yellow and red but can change colour rapidly if the weather cools or they are startled. It usually starts the day with a drab olive-brown colour and as it warms up the thorny dragon acquires its normal yellow, red and black colours.

Its most distinguishing feature are the intimidating spikes which cover its entire upper body. These thorns offer the animal good protection from would be predators. If attacked it also puffs up its body and stiffens its spikes making itself more difficult to swallow. The thorny dragon also has another trick up its sleeve. It has a pretend head! Located on the top of its neck this fake head, which looks like a large knob with two spikes on it, is offered as a decoy, while the lizard hides its real head between its front legs.

Thorny dragons are obligate myrmecophages - they eat only eat black ants. They are ambush predators that find a suitable spot where ants visit or pass through and that sit and wait to pick off their prey with their sticky tongues. It is estimated that a thorny dragon can eat 600-3000 ants each day.

Thorny Devil Walking Video

The thorny dragon has an unusually gait. It lifts its tail into a vertical position and walks very slowly, oscillating back and forth as it moves. It is not understood why this animals does this. It has been suggested that this stop-start movement and the animal freezing in place as it walks may be to emulate a leaf, as it does look somewhat like a leaf when viewed from above and thus may make it more difficult for predatory birds to spot it.

The thorny dragon is active during the day. The female is slightly larger than the male. Thorny lizards can live for up to 15 years.

Related: Australian Animals — List of Native, Introduced, Endangered, Rainforest Fauna

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