This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Terror for Halloween: a rant.

Yes, it's Halloween and what more terrible creature can I bring you to freeze your young blood and make each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine than (drum roll and man in a barrel going Mwa Ha Ha Ha!):

Moloch horridus!!!!

(Is your blood frozen yet?)

Now, Moloch, as you may know, was a nasty Caananite God who later was given the job of Prince of Hell. The poet Milton described him as smeared with the blood of human sacrifice.


As if that's not bad enough, this creature's second name is...


That's Latin, as you can probably guess. Horridus can mean rough or bristly, but obviously it's its other meaning, dreadful, that comes to mind once you've seen the Moloch.

So, what sort of creature is this rough and dreadful man-eating Prince of Hell?

One of these:

Its English name is either the thorny devil or the thorny dragon, and those names aren't very flattering, either.

So, is Moloch horridus really a man-eater?

Well, as the biggest of them only gets to be eight inches long, it's unlikely. In fact the poor thorny dragon lives almost entirely on ants. If you're an ant it's a terror - they can eat up to forty five ants a minute - but otherwise Moloch horridus is pretty harmless. Even their spines are mostly used to collect dew from the air: they have grooves in them that channel the water to their mouths.

So...can they sneak up on you and go boo? 

No, I'm afraid not. The thorny dragon is a plodder.

Can they bite?

Not generally, unless you're an ant. It has a hump on its neck:

and when threatened it tends to offer the hump in the hope of satisfying any predator with this small snack.

Can it turn into a...a...a werewolf?

Well, when they get cold or frightened they turn from pale yellow and red to a dark olive colour. But that's as far as it goes.

Oh. it's not really that scary, then.

No. It's rather a sweet little thing, and all the poor creature's names are thoroughly unfair.

And do you know what? I'm very cross indeed about it, too.

Word To Use Today: horrid. This word comes from the Latin horridus and originally meant prickly or rough.

The rotter who in 1841 gave the thorny dragon its nasty name (and I'm pretty sure it was just a marketing ploy to gain attention for its discovery) was the biologist John Edward Gray.


  1. I was a wee bit nervous to see what kind of creature Moloch horridus was!
    It was nice to breathe again once I saw the little guy, who I think needs wings so he can stand proud and fierce-like!

    Happy Halloween!

    1. You've given me an idea about some dragons who pretend to be lizards by folding away their wings.
      Someone ought to write a book about that.
      Thanks, Jingles.