Thorny Devil

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Thorny Devil

Moloch horridus

Last updated: January 21, 2022
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit Uwe Bergwitz/

Found only on mainland Australia!

Thorny Devil Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Moloch horridus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Thorny Devil Conservation Status

Thorny Devil Locations

Thorny Devil Locations

Thorny Devil Facts

Main Prey
Ants, Termites
Fun Fact
Found only on mainland Australia!
Dry desert and shrub land
Snakes, Human, Birds
Average Litter Size
  • Solitary
Favorite Food
Found only on mainland Australia!

Thorny Devil Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
Skin Type
Top Speed
37 mph
12-20 years
70-95g (2.5-3.4oz)

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View all of the Thorny Devil images!

The thorny devil is covered in thorny spikes that make it look like a miniature dragon.

A small lizard native to Australia, the thorny devil is known by various other names like thorny dragon, moloch, and mountain devil. It’s mainly active during the day and can change colors to blend into its environment. As intimidating as it looks, the thorny devil is actually a slow-moving lizard that mainly eats ants. It has a “fake head” behind its neck that works as a way to fool predators. Thorny devils sport a unique gait, which is slow and halting with their tails straight up in the air.

5 Incredible Thorny Devil Facts!

  • The names for the thorny devil reflect its intimidating appearance, including its scientific name Moloch, which was an ancient god depicted as a horrible beast.
  • These lizards can puff out their chests to look bigger and make themselves more difficult to eat due to all their spines.
  • The animal eats about 750 ants per day, but it’s capable of eating as many as 3,000 ants in one day.
  • Thorny devils have a strange gait where they freeze and rock in jerky movements. They may freeze midstep to throw off predators.
  • The ridged scales on the thorny devil aren’t just for protection. They also serve to channel water to the lizard’s mouth.

Thorny Devil Scientific name

The scientific name of the thorny devil is Moloch horridus. The lizard belongs to the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class Reptilia, the order Squamata, the suborder Iguania, the family Agamidae, the subfamily Amphibolurinae and the genus Moloch. The name Moloch horridus comes from the Canaanite demon god named Moloch, and horridus, which means dreadful or thorny. The name is related to the thorny devil’s imposing devilish appearance with spines and spikes all over its body. The thorny devil has a number of other nicknames, including the following:

  • Devil lizard
  • Horned lizard
  • Thorny toad
  • Mountain devil
  • Thorny dragon
  • Thorny lizard
  • Moloch

Thorny Devil Appearance

The lizard’s unique appearance definitely makes it stand out, but it’s also an adaptation. The lizards are covered with large spines all over their bodies. The spikes are mostly boneless, except for on the lizard’s skull. The thorny devil isn’t a very big lizard, however. It grows up to around eight inches total, including the tail. Females are larger than males. Another unique aspect of their appearance is its ability to change color to match its habitat and even the time of day. In the mornings when temperatures are cooler, the animal has brown or olive skin. They become light yellow as the temperature gets higher in the afternoon. The thorny devil’s appearance is mainly to blend in with its environment and ward off predators.

Spiny Thorny Devil lizard sitting on a red dirt ants nest

Leith Holtzman/

Thorny Devil Behavior

These animals are active in a range of temperatures in their native habitat. They are the most active between March and May, and August through December. They go almost totally inactive between January and February when the temperatures are the highest, and also during June and July when temperatures are the coldest. During these times, the lizard will dig burrows in the ground and hide. When the animal is active, its daily routine is to emerge from its shrub resting spot and warm itself on the sand. Thorny devils roam a small area to eat ants and defecate. They roam further when they are looking for mates. The lizards walk with a unique slow, halting gait. The animal is mostly solitary, and they are not particularly territorial so their territory may overlap with other lizards.

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Thorny Devil Habitat

Australia’s Great Sandy Desert interior provides the native habitat for the lizard. They can be found in sandy deserts and scrub with sandy soil. They are only found in areas with significant sandy soil. They don’t like areas with rocky or hard soil. The lizard has unique physical features that enable it to survive in the arid parts of Australia. Moisture-attracting grooves between the lizard’s scales can channel any minute amount of water to their mouths. This means that even just collected dew from overnight or on vegetation can provide water for the animal. In extreme situations, the lizard can also bury itself in the sand to draw moisture to its scales.

Thorny Devil Diet

The animal mainly eats ants. The spinifex and rainbow ant are two preferred ant species. The lizard isn’t a particularly active predator. It typically sits and waits for ants to cross its path and then laps them up with its sticky tongue. They only feed in temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the time of year, this might mean only in the morning or only in the afternoon. The lizard can eat thousands of ants in one day, but the average amount is about 750 ants per day.

What eats thorny devils?

Birds of prey and goannas are natural predators of the animal.

What does a thorny devil eat?

These lizards are carnivores and specifically, insectivores. They mainly eat ants and might eat thousands of ants in a single day.

Thorny Devil Predators and threats

The main predators of these animals are Australian bustards, black-breasted bustards, goanna lizards, and humans. It’s also possible that dingos, foxes, and snakes might try to eat them. However, these lizards are hard to see due to their natural camouflage and spiny skin. They move slowly with jerky movements, and they will freeze completely motionless when they sense a threat. This makes them fairly unattractive prey. The main threat to these lizards is the loss of their ant food source. This is possible in areas where humans kill ants as pests. However, these animals currently have a conservation status of least concern, which means that they are not facing any significant threat to their habitat or population.

Thorny Devil Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The mating behavior of the thorny devil is not well-known. Limited observation shows that males seek out females and will mate if the female is receptive. The thorny devil usually mates and lays eggs in the late winter into the early summer. Females lay their eggs in burrows. These burrows are different from the normal burrows used by the lizard. They are usually dug into sand ridges that face south. The females lay between three and 10 eggs with an average of eight. The eggs are incubated for a period between 90 and 132 days. The babies eat their own egg casings before leaving the burrow.

Thorny devils generally live between six and 20 years in the wild.

Thorny Devil Population

There is no confirmed population data for these lizards. The IUCN finds that the lizard is very common in its local habitat, but there is no firm population estimate. Thorny devils face no serious threats to their habitat or numbers, and their conservation is listed as the least concern.

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Thorny Devil FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Thorny Devils herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Thorny devils are carnivores and specifically, obligate myrmecophages insectivores. They only eat ants.

What Kingdom do Thorny Devils belong to?

Thorny Devils belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Thorny Devils belong to?

Thorny Devils belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Thorny Devils belong to?

Thorny Devils belong to the class Reptilia.

What family do Thorny Devils belong to?

Thorny Devils belong to the family Agamidae.

What order do Thorny Devils belong to?

Thorny Devils belong to the order Squamata.

What genus do Thorny Devils belong to?

Thorny Devils belong to the genus Moloch.

What type of covering do Thorny Devils have?

Thorny Devils are covered in scales.

In what type of habitat do Thorny Devils live?

Thorny Devils live in dry deserts and shrublands.

What is the main prey for Thorny Devils?

Thorny Devils prey on ants and termites.

What are some predators of Thorny Devils?

Predators of Thorny Devils include snakes, humans, and birds.

How many babies do Thorny Devils have?

The average number of babies a Thorny Devil has is 6.

What is an interesting fact about Thorny Devils?

Thorny Devils are found only on mainland Australia!

What is the scientific name for the Thorny Devil?

The scientific name for the Thorny Devil is Moloch horridus.

What is the lifespan of a Thorny Devil?

Thorny Devils can live for 12 to 20 years.

How fast is a Thorny Devil?

A Thorny Devil can travel at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour.

What is a thorny devil?

A thorny devil is a small lizard in the Agamidae family that only lives in Australia.

What do thorny devils eat?

Thorny devils only eat ants.

Where does the thorny devil live?

The thorny devil is found only in Australia, and mainly in the western and central desert portion of the country.

How long do thorny devils live?

Thorny devils can live up to 20 years.

How much does a thorny devil weigh?

The thorny devil weighs between 1.16 ounces and 3.12 ounces.

Can thorny devils be kept as pets?

Thorny devils are native to Australia and are illegal to export as pets. They are also illegal as pets within Australia.

What adaptations does the thorny devil have?

The thorny devil has various adaptations for its environment, including natural camouflage and water-channeling spines.

  1. Bush Heritage, Available here:
  2. Wikipedia, Available here:
  3. Animal Diversity Web, Available here:
  4. Animalia, Available here:
  5. Reptiles, Available here:
  6. Fact Animal, Available here:

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