A unique kind of lizard known as the thorny devil, or also called the thorny dragon, is able to live in intensely dry and arid environments because of an innate ability to draw water from the sand beneath its feet.
Described in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers discuss the creature’s unique ability.
The team of researchers, led by Philipp Comanns of RWTH Aachen University in Germany, examined a grand total of six of these lizards from Mount Gibson, Western Australia in order to study how the creatures got their water.
Their mouths aren’t really adapted for drinking water; instead, they’re made for sucking up lizards, their main source of food. As a result, scientists know they don’t drink water with their mouths.
They took a closer look at their feet, which are always in contact with the ground, and they found microscopic grooves that seem to be able to draw water from the sand they’re standing on. These grooves network straight to the lizard’s mouth, where they can then drink the water they collect.
To test the theory, they placed the lizards in a small puddle of water. Without even using their mouths to drink, the water was slowly absorbed through just their feet. The lizards’ mouths opened and closed the entire time this occurred, likely a part of the drinking process, but the mouth never made contact with the water puddle itself.
The researchers also explain that the lizards will continue to absorb water from the sand through their skin until these grooves are full, after which they’ll sit still and drink the water by channeling it to their mouths. The skin is reportedly able to hold up to 3.2% of the lizard’s body weight in water.
While there are other kinds of animal species around the world that can collect water through their skin, the thorny devil is the only known species that can actually channel that water directly to their mouths for drinking. Other species simply absorb that water through their skin and it goes where it needs to go from there.
In some cases, these lizards even take advantage of desert dew by kicking up moist sand on their backs so that their back skin can perform double duty by absorbing the moisture while their feet work on the ground beneath them.
Because the dry areas these creatures live in don’t usually have water puddles and readily accessible sources of water, the lizards likely evolved to develop this ability on their own in order to survive in this kind of climate.
While this isn’t ordinary behavior for all lizards, it is for the thorny devil, and although it sounds impossible for us, it has helped the thorny devil to survive mother nature for all these years.
Source: The Atlantic