What are the chances to see a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)?

This is probably the most common question we are asked on our tours.... the answer is not simple, so let's start at the beginning....

Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't...

Australia is home to over 900 reptiles. Almost 80 of these belong to the family Agamidae whose members are commonly known as dragons - the thorny devil is one of them. 


The charismatic reptile grows to an average of 10cm in length (excluding tail). Spiky and prehistoric looking it resembles a small dinosaur.

Its scientific name, Moloch horridus, was chosen because of its fierce look. Moloch is the name of a bloodthirsty king in an English poem by John Milton and horridus is the latin word for ‘bristly‘ and ‘rough‘, and in a certain context, also translates as ‘frightful‘.


What looks like 'spikes' are actually enlarged pointy scales. They are firm but not completely stiff and, just like your fingernails, they are made of keratin.  


The thorny devil is very photogenic and, as it usually does not run away, it provides a great wildlife experience. 


Shark Bay is a hot spot for this intriguing reptile, hence the chances to spot a devil are, at least theoretically, high ... but, unfortunately, things have changed.



Where to (not) spot a Devil (anymore)...

From this ...
From this ...

Until a few years ago one of the best places to spot a devil was the 50km long 4WD track leading through Francois Peron National Park.


Visitors who drive slow enough (no more than 50km/h!) and know what to look out for would often be rewarded with spotting a devil on the track.


As reptile fans and naturalists with a keen eye for wildlife, we would regularly spot them on our tours – on average between one and five devils per tour with the exception of the cooler winter months.

to this ...
to this ...

Unfortunately, all this has changed due to a deadly combination of:


a) A steep increase in traffic along the track (since Covid the Park has experienced a huge influx of visitors, exceeding the Park’s tourism carrying capacity).


b) No speed limit along the track. All attempts to encourage the Park management to put up an urgently needed speed limit failed. 


c) No informational signage in the Park. All attempts to encourage the Park management to put up educational signs along the track (to raise awareness for the various wildlife crossing the track in general and the thorny devil in particular) failed.


The result was a dramatic increase in the number of roadkill, especially among the thorny devil population.


The slow moving devil was especially affected because it often takes several minutes to cross the track – too long in heavy traffic and with drivers who are going too fast.


As a result sightings of this intriguing reptile have become rare in Francois Peron National Park - especially along the main track where the population has been decimated.

Best chances ...

The best chances to spot a devil offer the months September to October. In these months the devils are more active than usual as they are looking for a mate. This increases the chance that new devils move into the areas alongside the 4WD track. 


Hatching of the babies occurs mainly in the summer months January to March. They are tiny so please drive even slower and look out for them. 

The Thorny Devil Trail

In order to save our devil population we tried to get a project started called The Thorny Devil Trail. It was designed to transform the unnamed 4WD track leading through Francois Peron National Park into an educational attraction with three stopping bays along the track.


Each stopping bay would feature a large attractive sign which would tell some fascinating chapters out of the devil’s life.


However, after working almost a year on the project it got suddenly and without any reason cancelled.


What remained was not only a high number of dead devils (though the number has dropped considerably due to the sad fact that there are no devils left anymore to be run over….) but also the untold story of the devil’s life….. 

Speak of the Devil

This is why we decided to publish a booklet featuring the words and photos which were meant to be used for the signs along the Thorny Devil Trail.


The booklet is called Speak of the Devil and can be purchased at outlets such as the Shark Bay Discovery Centre and the DBCA shop at Monkey Mia.


It can also be ordered online ($22 including postage within Australia).

Become the Devil's Advocate

PLEASE drive slowly and watch out for our precious devils.



Because drinking water travels across the devil's skin before being swallowed, it is extremely important that the skin stays clean.

Sunscreen will stick to the skin and end up in the devil's next drink! Just imagine yourself sipping your favourite drink through a straw full of sunscreen!


Only pick a devil up when in grave danger such as in the middle of a busy road. If you wear sunscreen, please use a cloth.