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Hallowain't III: Thorny devil

Updated Tuesday 31st October 2017

It's a spiky devil. It's also known as a dragon. So is it a dragon from hell? No.

Thorny devil Creative commons image Icon Bäras under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

A thorny devil. Also known as a thorny dragon. Two bites of the spooky cherry, but the truth is it's neither demonic, nor dragon-y. This little lizard only grows to about eight inches long, and is found in the deserts of Australia rather than swooping out the sky of Westeros.

They survive, in part, because of a nifty trick they have for collecting water - their body is like a massive piece of guttering. A-Z of Animals explains:

The body of the thorny devil has a very rigid structure which aids it in collecting water. Amazingly, in between the cone shaped spikes, little channels form along the thorny devil's body which enables it to collect water from any part of its body which is then transported to the mouth.

In Latin, the lizard's name is borrowed not from a devil, but a god - Moloch horridus. The 'horridus' means more-or-less what you'd expect, but the Moloch part is lifted from Paradise Lost. John Milton included the Caanite god, Moloch, in his parade of the inhabitants of hell.

Moloch makes an appearance in the Christian Bible, turning up in Kings as Josiah attempts to stop the Israelite worship of false idols. Josiah closes down the site where children were forced into fire to please Moloch:

He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech.

It's this desire to toast small children that earned Moloch his place in Paradise Lost:

First Moloch, horrid King besmear'd with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents tears,
Though for the noyse of Drums and Timbrels loud
Thir childrens cries unheard, that past through fire
To his grim Idol. Him the Ammonite
Worshipt in Rabba and her watry Plain,
In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such
Audacious neighbourhood, the wisest heart
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
His Temple right against the Temple of God
On that opprobrious Hill, and made his Grove
The pleasant Vally of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna call'd, the Type of Hell

Back in the Australian desert, though, the horrid King's namesake isn't quite so terrifying - although it does have two heads.

Oh, yeah. Two heads. Wired magazine's counted them:

Thorny devils have a strange, knob-like appendage on the backs of their necks, which is sometimes called a false head. When threatened, the lizard can tuck its real head down between its forelegs, leaving the false head where its real head used to be.

Maybe having a spare head does manage to make the thorny devil quite an apt creature to bring the curtain down on our Hallowain't beastiary.

Have a wonderful, safe halloween and perhaps we'll see you again next year for more horrors that, on closer inspection, turn out to not be horrors.

Hallowain't is OpenLearn's annual celebration of things that don't go bump in the night. In the run up to Halloween each year, we're the people going "there's a rational explanation."

Hallowain't was originally part of OpenLearnLive.

 

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