Science in the desert: Thorny Devil!

on 30 Apr 2016 

This afternoon, while opening the pitfall traps, I was visited by the devil… a thorny devil!

Thorny devils appear frightful, but in reality they’re harmless, slow-moving ant-eaters. Thorny devils are are covered in thorny spines, and sport a 'pretend head’ on the back of their neck, thought to warn off predators. If threatened, they tuck their real head between their legs, leaving the false head exposed. The lizard can also inflate its chest to look bigger, and to be more difficult for predators to swallow.

Amazingly, they can change colour to blend into their surrounds. In warm weather they're dappled yellow to red; but in cool weather, or when alarmed, they'll morph to darker hues of olive-brown.

How does this little lizard survive in water-parched arid Australia? During the night dew condenses on their body, and in the morning they brush up against dewy grass. Then, the hygroscopic (moisture-attracting) grooves between their scales channel this water to their mouth! The same process occurs when it rains. Essentially, capillary action allows the lizard to suck water from all over their body – an amazing adaptation.