The Australian thorny devil (Moloch horridus) couldn’t look more at home in the desert if it tried, with its cactus-like skin and dusty brown coloring that camouflages perfectly into the Aussie outback.
A team of scientists have also recently studied another incredible adaptation of this desert dweller – its ability to use its skin to drink moisture in the sand. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The researchers tested how the known mechanism works by making resin replica skins of the lizards in the lab and seeing how they fared in puddles of water, moist sand, and condensation.
Since it is so rare to come across a puddle of water in the arid Australian desert, it’s actually impossible for their mouth to even sip water. Instead, the skin of the lizard is covered in special structures comprised of capillary channels that are in between their overlapping scales. These grooves passively lead water into the lizard’s mouth, which it then swallows with a gulp. This is similar to a technique previously seen in the Texas horned lizards.
By simply standing in a shallow puddle of water, they are able to gulp up to 3.2 percent of their body weight in water. But, of course, the opportunity to do this rarely comes about in the wild. So they’re also able to do this by standing in moist sand, which they can shovel onto their backs and rub on their bellies.
The researchers say this is likely a last-ditch attempt, which the lizards only use during periods of long drought. Nevertheless, it really drums home how well-adapted these little devils are to the harsh desert environment.
Cheers! Have a drink on us, Australian thorny devil.