Hi, I'm Moloch the Evil God, Do You Have Any Children?
Updated: Jan 12
Did I get your attention? Moloch was a Palestinian god from the Old Testament. Followers, after being chosen by a priest, were happy to accept young children for sacrifice. Its name was inspired by “Paradise Lost”, a poem by John Milton - who portrayed his Moloch the same it appeared in the Old Testament.
Molochs also have been living by the thousands in Australia. However, I have a hard time seeing an evil god that is eight-inches long. Even if this is a Halloween themed blog.
Moloch horridus is also known as the thorny devil, these prickly, rather odd lizards are the only animal in the Moloch genus. These odd little lizards live in the mallee, sandy loam, sandy, and ridge deserts with spiny fexgrasses and acacia scrub for vegetation. During January - February, the deserts are at their hottest. They dig burrows that keep them cool. March, April, and May is autumn for them and they are active. That means that they emerge from where they were hiding out. They are a darker color, which means they don’t have body heat. They warm up in the sun and soon their little bodies are bright yellows and reds. This is true for most reptiles. Dark colors absorb heat, allowing them to become warm. Lighter colors repel heat and allow them to thermoregulate. June - July are the coldest months and the little devils dig another burrow. August - December finds them out and about, doing their slow walk. August - September might speed them up since they are looking for love, albeit temporary. A typical day for a horny lizard is to emerge and warm up, they head to their defecation spot, maybe find an ant trail for snacks and go back to the scrubs for their evening slumber. January - February (hottest) and June - July (coldest), they dig little burrows and cover themselves up.
I’m sure you’ve looked at the pictures, you can clearly see that their pricks and look a little grumpy. Their bodies are covered in thick body shields and just a "few" spines. Except for the parietal spines, which are attached modest, bony attachments to their skull, the spines are boneless. The primary purpose of the spines is to discourage predators. If the predator insists on their endeavor, the thorny devil fills himself with air to make them more difficult to swallow and holds spines straighter. Their colors are for camouflage, and they can camouflage enough to where experts looking for them can’t even find them. They all have a slow “walk.” They take a step, freeze, another step and then rocking and repeat. I love watching the videos because they keep their tails straight up. Behind their heads, they have a round protrusion with a lot of spikes. This is used as a fake head. When threatened, they lower their head between their front legs and the fake head is in place, ready to cause as much damage as boneless spikes can give.
These little devils live in an area where there is hardly any water. So how do they do it? They have a capillary system. Any moisture that touches their body, anywhere, is drawn into little channels in their skin and it is moved through these channels to either side of the mouth This system also defies gravity. If there is a little puddle, they can stick their foot in and draw up water. The same goes for sand dampened by the dew. Often times they kick sand up on their back so as much moisture can be absorbed. They also will use dew to get their drink. As for food, I have two words: black ants. Actually, how’s this: myrmecophages - meaning obligate ant eater. Now ants have notoriously strong chitin (exoskeleton) and very little nutrition. For the thorny devil, this means they have to eat a large amount - as much as 2000 a day. These guys are lazy. Their hunting method is “sit and wait”. They sit by an ant mound and start picking them off as they come out. They have specially modified teeth for eating ants and an unusually shaped mouth, along with their head. Not even poop can be normal with this lizard! In their little devil poop pits, you will see a bunch of black shiny pellets. This easily crumbles into what is clearly ant chitin.
In August or September, they come up from their burrow and start looking for a mate. This may involve traveling a distance to reach a landmark. They aren’t territorial, so that’s good. Imagine fighting with those spikes! The male approaches the female, does some head bobs to get her attention and then he mounts. If she’s not impressed, she will fall and roll to knock him off. Some mating seems to happen in Autumn, which would mean that the female carries sperm until she feels like having a clutch. Females are larger than males and throughout the year can gain up to 40% and lose up to 40% - the most weight changes occur when she is gravid. After she’s laid her eggs, she will rapidly gain her weight back. When she’s ready to dump them, she digs a nine-inch burrow facing the south. She can lay anywhere from three to 10 eggs that she then covers up the burrow and smooths the sand at the entrance. She turns and rock-freeze-steps on her way, hoping that she will be gone before they hatch. She really wants nothing to them. In 90-132 days, the little 1.8 gram babies slit open their eggs and peek out. Then they hop out of their eggs and eat them, stopping to wonder why there weren't born near the Outback? Who cares about ants when there’s the Blooming Onion?
I wish you all a Happy Halloween
More thorny devil pictures below.