hey, seeing as exotic reptiles are illegal in australia, can you show me some cool native species?
I sure can! Australia’s critters are wonderful and wild and there’s so many truly amazing little guys! Three of the four orders of reptile live in Australia (the tuataras, of course, being absent), so here’s two Cool Pals from each order.
We hear a lot about Australia’s lizzers and sneks, but we don’t hear as much about their turtles, which is a shame because look at this face.
This is the eastern (or common) side-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) and it, uh, it has a really long neck. Hence the name.
These turtles are wonderful creatures. If they get annoyed, they can spray a powerful musk over a meter or so. They also can hybridize quite easily; there’s a natural hybrid zone where its range overlaps with Chelodina canni, Cann’s side-necked turtle. This occurs around the Styx River drainage- which… Oz. Ozzie baby. A lot of people outside of your sphere of influence think that you’re some kind of hell between all the dangerous critters and the heat. Naming a river Styx? Not helping your image.
Another cool Australian testudine is the Fly River Turtle, or pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta). Looking at this critter, the name should be obvious.
This species is the only living member of its genus and aside from its porky schnoz, this friend has a lot going on. For starters, it really looks like a sea turtle. Look at those flippers! They do haul out sometimes, so they’re not completely aquatic. They also have a leathery cover over their carapace, much like a sea turtle. They can be kept in captivity, but the adults are extremely territorial and will brawl. Constantly. Even during mating season. Potentially during mating.
Moving along to Crocodilia, we see that there’s actually multiple crocodile species kicking it down under! One of them is much larger and more notorious than the other. However, the freshwater crocodile, the smaller of the two, does have some notoriety of its own. Its scientific name is Crocodylus johnsoni, but it’s named after a fella by the name of Robert Arthur Johnstone. That’s J-o-h-n-s-t-o-n-e. When the guy who described it, Gerard Krefft, was filling out the paperwork, he forgot how to spell the guy’s name and so this critter is officially johnsoni. Johnstoni, the spelling it was supposed to have, is widely accepted as a synonym, though.
This is a very streamlined crocodile, with a graceful, elegant snout. Though not as slim as the Indian gharial, it’s much narrower than the saltwater version. This species has no real predators, but it is regularly brought low by a rather insidious little creature- the cane toad.
The saltwater crocodile, has no such problems. While the squat little invader is toxic to the freshwater crocs, the salties can eat them like potato chips. In fact… there’s not much these crocodiles can’t eat. Crocodylus porosus is the largest reptile on the planet; while some snakes can get longer, nothing gets heavier. These guys can eat sharks.
And yet, like most crocodilians, they’re wonderful parents. Gentle with their babies, mama saltwater crocodiles carry them around in their mouths and on their backs until they’re too big.
I could rattle on about size records, but I think the best way to express the size of these beautiful, primeval creatures is just to show you a comparison of one with some humans.
They’re longer head-to-tail than giraffes are tall; truly a relic from a distant past.
And now we get to Squamata, and boy was it hard to pick just a couple. I love every Australian lizard and snake so much, so I’m going to feature a couple that I’ve never really talked about. First up is Moloch horridus, aka the thorny devil. This lizard is absolutely amazing. It’s beautifully adapted for its harsh environment; the ridged scales mean that it can drink from any part of its body, as capillary action brings water to its mouth.
It does not drink through its foot, but rather the water is drawn to the mouth over the skin. Pretty special! They have a “false head” on the back of their neck to deter predators and they’re really quite shy and unaggressive; when in danger, they tuck their heads under and hope you bite the false head, which isn’t a head at all. And yet these gentle creatures got the specific name of “horrible” and the generic name of “Moloch,” who at the time was popularly depicted as a prince of Hell. It can fire up and down to better camouflage itself (or so the theory goes) and it mostly eats ants. Pretty tame for a horrible demon prince, no?
And then finally, it wouldn’t be right to talk about Australian animals without talking about Joanna and Frank. You know. These two.
Frank, the excitable Chlamydosaurus kingii, is a frilled lizard. In reality, frilled lizards don’t really do the “walking around on two legs” thing- they’re not basilisks. They’re primarily arboreal (so his climbing abilities are no joke), and their favorite food is termites. While they will eat other stuff, they can often be seen hanging out around termite mounds, waiting for them to emerge. Here’s one hanging out on a termite mound, hoping we can’t see him.
So we know what Frank is, but what is Joanna? It’s obvious she’s some kind of goanna, but that actually refers to one of several species. The internet says she’s a Spencer’s goanna (Varanus spenceri), but I don’t really think that’s the best match. Simplified color patterns aside, the Spencer’s goanna has something extremely distinctive that makes it an unlikely candidate for Joanna’s identity.
Its tongue is extremely blue. An argument for Joanna’s identity as a Spencer’s goanna could be made from its sort of pot-bellied form; Joanna’s built like a jelly bean around the middle and haunches- however, she’s also a little big to be a Spencer’s goanna. They only hit about four feet, and when compared to say, the height of the average door…
Four feet seems like a really small estimate. Based on size alone, I would suggest she’s actually a highly stylized perentie (Varanus giganteus) or a lace monitor (Varanus varius). Her overall build is very lithe, suggesting that she’s not a crocodile monitor or something like that, and her relative comfort on two legs as well as four is shared with real perenties, who not only tripod but will often run on two legs. They will also eat anything, including eggs (but then again, so will all monitors).
Adult perenties do have that nice long snakey neck…
But lace monitors have that middle bulk Joanna has.
Another factor we can put to the highly scientific* test is measuring how unbelievably smug these different monitors are.
Joanna, for comparison:
N-no, I said smug.
Are you even trying?
Oh for pete’s sake, this animal doesn’t know the difference between smug and doe-eyed adorable. This isn’t the face of an antagonist!
Ok yeah that’s a smug animal.
…oh my. Look at that smug- and, interestingly enough, look at how the eye ridges are prominent and rise above the skull, unlike the perentie and the Spencer’s goanna… and a lot like Joanna’s. While the perentie’s size is a bit more appropriate, I’m willing to say that maybe the lace monitor is our best bet for positively identifying this fictional, highly stylized conglomeration of monitor, snake, dog, and diva traits.
So there we go, anice little ride through some facts, some fiction, and some wild speculation! Tune in next time when I pour through more children’s cartoons trying to put a species to Franklin the Turtle and Mr. Dupette from Rocko’s Modern Life!
*not scientific at all, all of this is conjecture based on different lizard shapes
Paleontologists Gain New Insight to "Telescoping" Crocodile Eyes
Fossils of a 13-million-year-old extinct crocodilian from the Peruvian Amazon suggest that South American and Indian species of crocodiles evolved separately to acquire protruding, “telescoped” eyes that helped the animals conceal themselves underwater while scanning the banks of rivers and lakes for prey. Full story.
The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, provides a long-sought insight about the extremely long and slender-snouted gavialoids—one of the three major types of crocodilians, along with alligators and crocodiles—that are represented today by just one living species, the Indian gharial.
“The extraordinarily well-preserved fossils of this new 13-million-year-old gharial document how independent, parallel evolution of long-snouted animals with specialized visual systems occurred across continents,” said John Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology and an author on the paper.
Known for their elongated, narrow snouts, and sharp, piercing teeth, gavialoids are a diverse group of mostly extinct crocodilians that lived in an array of tropical regions including in South America and India. Fossils of gavialoid crocodilians from South America and the modern Indian gharial have similar telescoped eyes, but it was not known how these features evolved.