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Backyard BluetonguePrintable Version

Bluetongue lizard (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides) - click to enlarge

Earlier this year I wrote a piece called Backyard Lizards. That began when I watched a bluetongue crawl across the backyard, but it was gone before I could take photos. In the end I decided to look a little more closely at some of the smaller garden skinks and with the help of Ken Griffiths' book "Frogs and Reptiles of hte Sydney Region" was able to identify the common garden skink (Lampropholis guichenoti) and the fence skink (Cryptoblepharus virgatus).

Within 24 hours the next bluetongue came along and gave me a great chance to get some photos to share. Griffiths gives this one the common name "Eastern Blue-Tongued Skink".

Mistaken identity - click to enlarge

As Griffiths points out - the bluetongue is often mistaken for being a snake, and sadly, is then often killed by mistake. It is not uncommon for bluetongues to lose digits or limbs and they can get by quite well without them. No doubt this would add to the illusion of appearing like a snake.

I chose this photo to highlight how easy this mistaken identity can be. You can imagine this lizard slithering through tall grass - with or without limbs.

Probably the most similar snake in appearance is the death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)- and the two reptiles' distributions overlap. Only two weeks ago a holidaymaker in Sydney was bitten five times by a death adder when he attempted to pick it up and move it in the dark - mistaking it for a lizard. (Have a look at the linked article and compare the photo with the first bluetongue photo on this page: both have similar colouration, similar stripe patterns, a thick body leading to a thin neck and then a broad head, and a thick long body ending in a short thin tail.)

Red eyes - click to enlarge

I never knew bluetongues had red eyes until I looked at my photos. Have a look at the shapes and layout of scales on the head, as well as the colouration - sandy brown on top, with a grey mouth and underside and that characteristic black stripe starting at the eye and running back down along the side of the body.

[Note 29/12/2006: I have a theory about the dark marking behind the eye. Recently I observed a bluetongue feeding at the mulch pile in my yard. It regularly tucked its head down into the mulch to catch insects, and whilst angled down that way, the black markings appeared like enormous eyes to me, the observer. Thus, I wonder if the markings serve not only to camoflague the real location of the eye, but also to have the appearance of an eye specifically while it's real eyes are engaged in the foraging process. Back to the original article...]

As well as having to contend with would-be-snake-killers (and why would you need to kill a snake anyway?) - bluetongues can fall victim to poisoning by snail-pellets; which is most unfortunate as bluetongues love to eat snails. Next time you're about to bait the garden, please consider making it bluetongue-friendly instead. Bluetongues love to roam along and under fences, but this leaves them highly exposed to predators. One quick way to help them out is to run intervals of plastic piping along the fence.

Rockeries with plenty of hiding places would be useful - especially for breeding during summer; bluetongues have up to 25 live young. Rockeries might also encourage snakes, however, but I've heard it said that if bluetongues are about, then the poisonous snakes move away.

A good sized lizard - click to enlarge

My thumb isn't really that big - it's just a bad angle! This is a good sized lizard. I found it near the house and under a mulberry tree. Given the colour and constitution of the poo it dropped on me, I'd say it had had a morning breakfast of berries on this particular day!

I don't know how true it is, but I've heard it said bluetongues are covered in salmonela. If handling these animals, always be sure to wash your hands afterwards. For the sake of any native wildlife, it's a good idea to wash before also. Remember - all reptiles across Australia are protected and may not be collected from the wild.

Native predators which might prey on bluetongues would include owls and kookaburras (I expect). A feral-species predator would be the fox, which is thriving in urban areas. Domesticed predators include cats and dogs, which is a real shame because bluetongues can live for at least as long as canine and felid pets.

Patterns - click to enlarge

How gorgeous is the colouration on this lizard? Apart from the striping pattern, who would have thought there would be bright red spots down the side of a bluetongue? These are really vivid and easy to see on a live animal.

If shovel-wielding humans, snail pellets, predators, cats and dogs weren't enough to make life tough for the bluetongue, there are at least two more dangers for this guy: lawnmowers and cars. Please check to clear long grass of native species before mowing or whipper-snipping it. Don't do this by hand, in case there is a snake about, but perhaps with the end of a broom or rake.

And if you should be unfortunate enough to run over one of these long-lived lizards, please consider stopping to check. It may have only damaged its tail - in which case you can safely move it off the road. If it has been killed, then it may have had unborn young. These can still be rescued. Make yourself familiar with your local wildlife rescue organisations, and keep their numbers handy in the car. You can even use the search form at the top of this page - just choose the "Web" option and enter "wildlife rescue" and your state name.

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