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Discovery Magazine 8/1/2010

The Amazing Thorny Devil

Imagine a lizard about the size of a baseball that is covered in hard spikes that stick out of its body in all directions. That mental picture will help you think about one of God’s most amazing creatures—the Thorny Devil. You might wonder how the Thorny Devil got its name. Of course, the spikes on the lizard’s skin look like thorns, so the “Thorny” part of its name is easy to understand. But why is it called “Devil”? In 1841, a man named John Grey named the lizard Moloch Horridus. Grey named the lizard after the Canaanite god Moloch (also spelled Molech), because of the two horns that protrude out of the lizard’s head. The term Horridus can mean rough and spiky, or it can mean terrible or dreadful. While the Thorny Devil may look dreadful, it happens to be a very easy-going, slow moving lizard that humans can handle without it becoming aggressive.

Not only is the Thorny Devil very unique in the way that it looks, but God also equipped this little wonder with some amazing tools and skills. Since the Thorny Devil lives in the deserts of central Australia, water is often very difficult to find. In order for the Thorny Devil to make the most of any water it comes across, God specially designed the lizard’s skin. Along the lizard’s body there are hundreds of tiny, grooved channels that all lead to the corners of the animal’s mouth. When water touches the skin of a Thorny Devil, the tiny grooves “suck up” the water by using something called capillary action. Think about it like this. Suppose you spill a glass of water and use a paper towel to clean it up. When you dip the paper towel in the water, the water seeps up the towel to parts that are not even touching the water. Also, it is like putting a wick in oil, and the oil seeps all the way through the wick, even to parts that are not touching the oil.
In the same way, the Thorny Devil “sucks up” water. So, if the Thorny Devil wants a drink, it can simply step in water and suck up the entire puddle and bring the water to its mouth with the tiny channels on its skin. It never even has to put its mouth in the water. This ability keeps the lizard alive, because any dew or moisture on plants or in the sand can be taken into its body this way.

Also, God gave the Thorny Devil several interesting ways to defend itself. Of course, the most obvious defensive tool of the Thorny Devil is its spiky skin. Just think, if you were a predator, would you want to eat something that looks like a pincushion, full of sharp spikes? Me neither. In addition to its spikes, the Thorny Devil has a “false head” on its neck just behind his real head. This false head is large and spiky. When the Thorny Devil is threatened, it can lower its real head between its front two legs and raise its “false head” to look like a head. By doing this, it protects its vital, important organs, and makes its spiky “head” look much more difficult for a predator to swallow. As if that were not enough, the Thorny Devil can puff itself up by sucking in air so that it looks like an even bigger spiky pincushion. And it can change color.

Maybe you were wondering what this prickly little critter eats. Ants. That’s it, just ants, all the time, for every meal, every day. But it sure can eat a lot of them. A Thorny Devil finds a trail where ants are walking. Then it positions itself along the trail so that it can stick out its sticky tongue and catch one ant at a time. It is so fast, that it can catch 45 ants per minute, and some people say that it can eat 1,000-3,000 ants per meal.  That is one ant-loving, bristly lizard. I would hate to be an ant that came across the Thorny Devil’s path.

The Thorny Devil is a great example of God’s amazing design. False ideas like evolution can never explain the Thorny Devil’s amazing skin and effective defense system. Only God could design such an interesting, ingenious creature that can thrive in desert climates. The Thorny Devil is a big thorny problem for people who believe in evolution.



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