A passer-by found this little Thorny Devil or Moloch horridus walking the streets of Katherine recently and brought it into the Parks office. Thorny Devils are amazing little reptiles, normally found in the super-heated interior of Australia they are perfectly adapted to living in the harsh sandy deserts.
At about 15 to 20cm, the little Thorny Devil is not particularly threatening, but intimidating and multipurpose spikes cover their bodies.
The Devil moves around during the day and the ochre, black and sand coloured spikes give it a perfectly camouflaged body. They also make it a difficult dinner to swallow for predators such as larger goannas and birds of prey. Their armour includes a false ‘head’ on the back of the lizards’ neck that is made of soft tissue. The lizard presents this to a potential predator in the hope of preserving its actual skull. Hygroscopic grooves in between the spikes help the Devil collect moisture in the desert at night by channelling the condensing dew that falls on its back to its mouth.
The Thorny Devil is one of the most fussy of desert predators. It only eats a certain species of ant found in the desert country, so trying to keep and feed it regular ‘small black ants’ won’t work. This can make it a difficult animal to keep in captivity and you are not allowed to keep it.
There is no way that our little spiky hero would have been able to travel to Katherine under its own steam. It is slow moving, small and only found in Central Australia many hundreds of kilometres from where it was found.
All wildlife in the Northern Territory is protected and must not be taken from the wild or kept without a permit. This permit is free and available from the Parks and Wildlife Commission, however you must have proof of purchase for your new pet. Native animals like the Thorny Devil must not be taken from the wild. If you don’t follow the rules about wildlife in the Northern Territory you can be charged with a penalty worth up to $7700 or five years in jail.
The Thorny Devil is a beautiful animal needing specialist care and consideration. Take a photo, not the critter, and help us to make sure that these terrific Territorians will be stalking up the sand hills of the future.