Australian Critter of the Week – Moloch horridus
Moloch horridus or the “thorny devil” as it’s commonly known is one kick ass lizard. These little guys grow to around 20cm long and live throughout the scrub and desert of central Australia. We are lucky enough to have the highest density population here in Western Australia! As well as being used for defense and camouflage the thorny scales all over its backs contain tiny little canals that carry water to its mouth, how awesome! The thorny devil is also an example of convergent evolution; where genetically dissimilar species evolve similar characteristics. As it has been isolated geographically for many million of years Australia contains many interesting examples of convergent evolution. In the case of the thorny devil it has evolved physical, dietary and activity patterns similar to the North American Horned Lizard. Perhaps the cutest thing about the thorny devil is it’s unusual gait, involving freezing on the spot and rocking as it moves around searching for food (namely ants).
Another awesome thing about this little guy is that it actually changes its colour depending on the amount of sunlight in its surroundings. It also has the crazy little “second head” at the base of it’s neck. The use of this second head is still somewhat of a mystery although leading hypotheses suggest it may be used to confuse predators or even to store fat and water. Whilst not endangered they are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act. Unfortunately they are sometimes killed on roads as they bask for sun and absorb the heat from the tarmac.
That’s all for this week!