Cutaneous water collection by a moisture-harvesting lizard, the thorny devil (Moloch horridus)

P. Comanns, Philip Withers, F.J. Esser, W. Baumgartner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.Moisture-harvesting lizards, such as the Australian thorny devil, Moloch horridus, have the remarkable ability to inhabit arid regions. Special skin structures, comprising a micro-structured surface with capillary channels in between imbricate overlapping scales, enable the lizard to collect water by capillarity and transport it to the mouth for ingestion. The ecological role of this mechanism is the acquisition of water from various possible sources such as rainfall, puddles, dew, condensation on the skin, or absorption from moist sand, and we evaluate here the potential of these various sources for water uptake by M. horridus. The water volume required to fill the skin capillary system is 3.19% of body mass. Thorny devils standing in water can fill their capillary system and then drink from this water, at approximately 0.7 µl per jaw movement. Thorny devils standing on nearly saturated moist sand could only fill the capillary channels to 59% of their capacity, and did not drink. However, placing moist sand on skin replicas showed that the capillary channels could be filled from moist sand when assisted by gravity, suggesting that their field behaviour of shovelling moist sand onto the dorsal skin might fill the capillary channels and enable drinking. Condensation facilitated by thermal disequilibrium between a cool thorny devil and warm moist air provided skin capillary filling to approximately 0.22% of body weight, which was insufficient for drinking. Our results suggest that rain and moist sand seem to be ecologically likely water sources for M. horridus on a regular basis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3473-3479
    JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
    Issue number21
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Cutaneous water collection by a moisture-harvesting lizard, the thorny devil (Moloch horridus)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this