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Reptiles

DSC 0149 goanna cropped

Goanna

Goanna is the name given to any of the various Australian monitor lizards of the genus Varanus, as well as to certain species from Southeast Asia. There are around 20 species of goanna, 15 of which are endemic to Australia. They are a varied group of carnivorous reptiles that range greatly in size and fill several ecological niches. The Goanna features prominently in Aboriginal mythology and Australian folklore. Traditionally, it formed an important part the diet of many Aboriginal peoples.

Being predatory lizards, goannas are often quite large, or at least bulky, with sharp teeth and claws. The largest is the Perentie (Varanus giganteus), which can grow over 2m in length. Goannas prey on all manner of small animals; insects, lizards, snakes, mammals, birds, eggs. Meals are often eaten whole, and thus the size of their meal may depend on humans the size of the animal itself, although all species are scavengers and will readily eat animals as large as cattle and camels. However, the Perentie has been observed killing a young kangaroo, and then biting out chunks of flesh like a dog. Goannas have even been blamed for the death of sheep by farmers, though most likely erroneously, as goannas are also eaters of carrion and are attracted to rotting meat.

Not all goannas are gargantuan. Pygmy goannas may be smaller than a man's arm. The smallest of these, the short-tailed monitor (Varanus brevicuda) reaches only 20 cm in length. They survive on smaller prey such as insects and mice.

Most goannas are dark in coloration, whites, greys, blacks and greens featuring prominently. Many desert dwelling species also feature yellow-red tones. Camouflage ranges from bands and stripes to splotches, speckles and circles, and can change as the creature matures; juveniles sometimes being brighter than adults.

Like most lizards, goannas lay eggs. Most lay eggs in a nest or burrow, but some species lay their eggs inside termite mounds. This offers protection and incubation, additionally the termites may provide a meal for the young as they hatch. Unlike other species of lizards, goannas do not have the ability to regrow limbs or tails.

Habitats

Goannas are found throughout most of Australia and manage to persist in a variety of environments. Most species are terrestrial, or ground dwelling. Prominent among these is the Sand goanna (Varanus gouldii – also known as the ground goanna or Gould's goanna), the most common of all goannas. They are often found in close proximity to a burrow or den, which may be a hollow log, or if in the plains a dug burrow which can be up to a metre (three feet) deep. They may even take over rabbit warrens. The far end of the burrow is often close to the surface, so if the entrance is blocked off (by a predator, or a collapse) the goanna just needs to break through a thin layer of soil to be free.

As well as sandy plains, some goannas live in rocky outcrops and cliffs, often having special adaptations that aid their survival. The spiny-tailed goanna (Varanus acantharus) of Northern Australia, has blunt spines on its tail that make it virtually immovable from the rockface if in danger.

While some terrestrial goannas may occasionally climb trees or outcrops, there are plenty of primarily arboreal species. The lace monitor (Varanus varius) is probably the best-known amongst these, but is not the most common. The lace monitor is the second largest of all goannas, reaching lengths of up to 2 metres. Other more common tree goannas, such as the Timor tree monitor (Varanus timorensis) and Mournful tree monitor (Varanus tristis) do not grow to quite such lengths, averaging only a few feet nose to tail.

Other goannas are adapted to swampy coastal environments such as the Mangrove goanna (Varanus semiremex). Further still, the Mertens' water monitor (Water goanna – Varanus mertensi), found in lagoons and rivers across northern Australia, is streamlined for swimming, utilising its tail as a paddle. Most other goannas are good swimmers, but tend not to voluntarily venture into the water.

Goannas and humans

Like most native fauna, goannas are rather wary of human intrusions into their habitat, and will most likely run away (into the scrub, up a tree, or into the water, depending on the species). A goanna is a rather swift mover, and when pressed will sprint short distances on its hind legs.

Goannas also rear up when threatened, either chased or cornered, and also inflate flaps of skin around their throats and emit a harsh hissing noise.

Some goannas recover from their initial fear of humans, especially when food is involved (or food has been involved previously). This reinforces the wildlife authority's mantra of not feeding animals while camping or erstwhile adventuring. This said, most authorities doubt that a goanna will actually direct an intentional attack on human unless said human attempts to attack it (or grasp at it) first. Aborigines who hunt goannas for food consider the Perentie as a high-risk (but tasty) prey.

The debate whether goannas are venomous or not is growing. Previously it was thought that incessant bleeding caused by goanna-bites were the result of bacterial infection. Recent studies suggest that monitor lizards (including goannas) are venomous and have oral toxin-producing glands.

Other dangers a goanna presents is from its hefty tail. It can swing this much like a crocodile if cornered. Small children and dogs have been knocked down by such attacks. Often victims in goanna attacks are bystanders, watching the person antagonising the goanna. Alarmed goannas can mistake standing humans for trees and attempt to climb off the ground to safety, which is understandably painful, as well distressing for both man and beast.

It should be noted that goannas are a protected species throughout Australia for all non-indigenous people.

Folklore

European settlers perpetuated several old wives' tales about goanna habits and abilities, some of these have persisted in modern folklore amongst campers and bushmen. This includes the above-mentioned exaggeration of goannas dragging off sheep from shepherds' flocks in the night. Around a campfire these might even be exaggerated into child-snatching, rivalling drop bears (attack koalas) as tourist scarer, probably more convincing due to the reptiles carnivorous nature and fearsome appearance.

A common tale was that the bite of a goanna was infused with a powerful incurable venom. Every year after the bite (or every seven years), the wound would flare up again. For many years it was generally believed by herpetologists that goannas were nonvenomous, and that lingering illness from their bites was due solely to infection and septicaemia as a result of their saliva being rife with bacteria from carrion and other food sources. However, in 2005 researchers at the University of Melbourne announced that oral venom glands had been found in both goannas and iguanas.

Because the goanna regularly eats snakes (often involving a fierce struggle between the two), they are often said to be immune to snake venom. The goanna does eat venomous snakes, but no evidence found suggests actual poison immunity. Other stories say the lizard eats a legendary plant, or drinks from a healing spring which neutralises the poison. This is immortalised in Banjo Paterson's humorous poem Johnson's Antidote.

Possibly related to the above poison immunity, goanna fat or oil has been anectdotally imbued with mystical healing properties. Aborigines traditionally used goanna oil as an important bush medicine,and it also became a common medicine among whites in Australia's early days. Said to be a cure-all for all sorts of ailments, and possessing amazing powers of penetration (passing through metal as if it were not there), it was sold amongst early settlers like snake oil in the Old West of North America.

Diet

The diet of goannas varies greatly depending on the species and the habitat. Many of the small species feed mostly on insects, with some being small lizard specialists. Many of the medium to large species will feed on whatever prey items they can catch. This includes eggs, fish (V.Mertensi), birds, snails, lizards, snakes, marsupials, and rodents. All species are carrion eaters and will feed on the carcasses of dead animals.

Possible origins of the name

The name Goanna might have been derived from iguana, as early European settlers likened goannas to the South American lizards.

Another possibility is that the name might have been derived from the South African term for a monitor lizard Leguaan (as the Cape of Good Hope was a popular refresher stop for immigrant ships to Australia from Britain).

Hey all you budding Photographers!

Have you taken a great photo of a Goanna? If you have - send it into . If we think the picture is good enough to put up on our website - we will! And we promise to credit the photographer too! Because we pride ourselves on our images on this website, we will only put up high quality clear and detailed shots. And don't forget - they must be yours!


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

brown tree snake

Brown Tree Snake - Boiga irregularis

This snake is an aggressive species and will bite if even slightly threatened. This species is venomous. However, it is not considered dangerous, with the bite only having a stinging effect. The Brown Tree Snake is uncommon in the Sydney region, although it has been seen on several occasions. They are sighted much more often in the mid north coast regions. It favours regions with sandstone caves, amongst which it hides.

Its colour is brown with irregular dark bands which may result in confusion with the highly venemous Eastern Tiger Snake. However, this species can be distinguished from the Tiger Snake by its salmon belly and a difference in head shape.

The Brown Tree Snake has large orange eyes and lies with its head in the striking position as a defense mechanism and also in case a prey item approaches.

tiger-snake

Eastern Tiger Snake - Notechis scutatus

This snake usually grows up to approx. 1.2-1.6m however they have been recorded at over 2m. The Eastern Tiger Snake is common in mountainous areas and the west of Sydney but are found in coastal areas also. It prefers grassy areas near water however is found well away from water. This snake is shy and will flee if given the chance to however if it feels threatened and has no way of escaping it will bite. These snakes are classed as highly venomous and dangerous.

The Eastern Tiger Snake is light brown to greyish in colour and sometimes even olive in colour with paler cross bands. Its underparts are cream to yellow in colour.

This species has many similar species such as a juvenile Eastern Brown Snake. It can be distinguished from this species by the absence of a black patch on the back of its head.

The Common Tree Snake is too similar and can be distinguished by its not distinct head that is kept low with a body that is heavy set with no side to side, waving motion. It also has no blue in between its scales.

THIS SNAKE IS CONSIDERED HIGHLY VENOMOUS AND DANGEROUS AND SHOULD NEVER BE APPROACHED.

bearded dragon

Bearded Dragon ~ Pogona babata

This yellow-brown dragon grows to approx. 50cm with a distinctive loose flap of skin that becomes erect when startled or threatened. Also the dragon opens its mouth showing a bright yellow interior to help scare off the intruder. This lizard is common in the area and can be distinguished by the ‘beard’ or loose skin around the neck.

It inhabits dry woodland spending much of its time basking on logs or dead branches which makes it almost invisible to passers by with its colourings matching those of dead wood.

This lizard is often confused with the Frilled-Neck Lizard due to its loose flap of skin around the neck however the Frilled-Neck Lizard inhabits Northern Australia in much hotter, drier habitats and are not found in this region.

blue-tongue-lizard

Blue Tongued Lizard - Tiliqua scincoides scincoides

The Blue Tongued lizard is a well-known Australian native animal. It is brown and black blotched on a cream body with usually a dark band behind the eyes. They are easily recognised by their bright blue tongue which in nature is a warning to predators to stay away.

They have a thick body with small limbs and are slow movers depending mostly on their colours to go unnoticed and if a predator does come along they try to scare them off by opening their mouths, hissing and showing their blue tongue, sometimes even biting at the intruder. However cats, dogs and foxes often kill them because they are quite commonly found in backyards living amongst woodpiles and rock gardens.

They are often mistaken for a snake due to their body shape and small limbs and killed but they feed on slugs and snails so they are great at keeping your gardens free from these pests.

The Blue-Tongued Lizard is in the skink family which means it can lose its tail if a predator is close behind, however it is not as simple as a little garden skink that easily loses and regrows its tail. Sometimes this lizard can die due to massive bleeding and infection with the tail never looking as it did. Sometimes the tail grows much smaller and a different colour to the rest of its body.

Blue Tongues are quite inoffensive and can be kept by children as pets. However it is illegal to take native animals from the wild so they must be obtained through breeders that will help with housing and feeding requirements as these little critters have quite specific needs.

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