Added 22 June 2005.

A look at the Family Agamidae


Thorny Devil, Moloch


Quite simply put, this is one of the most unmistakeable lizards in the world, although at first glance it might be mistaken for something else. The common name is extremely apt as the entire dorsal surface of the Moloch is covered with protruding spines like the thorns of a plant, with a rounded spiny hump on the nape of the neck. The nearest anything else in the reptile world comes to it are the Phrynosoma, or Horny Devils (aka Horned Toads), lizards of southern North America.

Even more than the Phrynosoma lizards (most of them at any rate), the Moloch is extremely hard to keep alive outside of its natural environment. This seems to be mainly because it is an ant exclusivist, preying only on these invertebrates, and in very large quantities - up to five thousand per meal [Swann and Wilson]. Manthey and Schuster note that hatchlings of the species have been maintained for up to a year in captivity on different insects, but go on to add that they do not consider the experiment worth repeating.

Film buffs may have seen a shot of a live M. horridus in the outback in the film Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Species Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
M. horridus  Moloch, Thorny Devil  Australia (extreme W Queensland, Northern Territory, West Australia, South Australia) SVL 9-11 cm: tail < 100% SVL  The Moloch is found on sandy soils in arid to semi-arid areas of open grassland, bush or acacia forest. As agamids these are very much loners, wandering some distances in search of food and only associating to mate. Feeding is by ambush rather than active attack, the lizard waiting along ant trails. When walking the tail is held upright and the movement itself is rather jerky. Longevity in the wild is about 20 years. Scalation details: apart from the large spines, the scales on M. horridus are small granular scales. There are longitudinal rows of spines on all dorsal and lateral surfaces, the largest being found on the sides, one over each eye (recurved, somewhat like a standing horn), and two on the large bulbous hump on the neck. Ventral scalation is also granular, interspersed with low spines. The arrangement of the scales forms small capillary channels which gather moisture in the early morning and convey it to the animal's mouth. Tail: compressed and prehensile. Coloration: overall the colour may vary between orange-red to yellow, olive-grey to brown, with large darker blotches, apparently usually brown, a narrow pale vertebral stripe is present, as is usually a dorsolateral stripe. Reproduction: female usually larger than the male. Males fight for females in a way that includes ramming rivals. Females lay 3-10 eggs in burrows: incubation time is 90-128 days. Sexual maturity is reached in about 3 years.