Wildlife Photography with marysejansenart
Big, Powerful and Beautiful
A rustle in the undergrowth
A rustle in the undergrowth tells me there is ‘something big’ there. That’s always a bit exciting! When you’ve heard it more often you begin to recognize what various animals sound like when they move around. The raking sound of the Brush Turkey sounds very different from the hopping sound of a Kangaroo. The rustle of a slithering snake is distinctly different again. The noise I am hearing right now consists of a continuous rustle, like the slither, but I can also hear footsteps breaking it up. This must be a Goanna, or Lace Monitor! There it emerges from the undergrowth and begins to climb a tree trunk! It’s absolutely an impressive creature!
Lace Monitors are the second largest lizard of Australia and they can grow up to be 2m long!! They have powerful muscles and can weigh up to 14kg! Like Saltwater Crocodiles, these lizards are apex predators and have an important role in keeping the balance in their ecosystem. Occasionally however, they will be preyed upon by Wedge-tailed Eagles, Dingoes and (non-native) Wild Boars.
They are a member of monitor lizard family and native to eastern Australia. The Lace Monitor ranges from Cape Bedford on Cape York all the way to south-eastern South Australia in forests. They are mainly arboreal sand very good climbers, despite their heavy build. They have massive claws that give them good grip. But they will also spend a lot of time foraging on the forest floor. They are capable of walking several kilometres a day!
The Lace Monitors are hungry
Being cold-blooded reptiles, they hide away during the cooler months in tree hollows or under rocks or logs. Around September, they begin to show themselves again.
A beautiful day, bordering on the season change from winter to spring, is luring the first goannas out of their hiding places! They spend some time warming up in the sun, but they are also hungry!
Looking to fill their stomach, there is a lot of foraging going on. The large, forked tongue flickers in and out of their mouth, picking up information from the surroundings such as the location of prey or other monitors. Lace Monitors are the only type of lizard to have a forked tongue, something they have in common with snakes.
They are scavengers by preference, eating carcasses of dead animals that they find on the forest floor. They also have a taste for eggs, and will raid bird nests, including the massive compost heap nests of the Brush Turkey. On top of that they don’t shy away from a carnivorous menu of young birds, mammals and other reptiles either. Usually, they swallow their meat whole.
Looking for eggs in a termite nest
A memory surfaces of this apex predator at work… ‘during a walk in the bush I hear a big racket of birds in distress. I go and check it out. A pair of Collared Kingfishers is producing these stress-calls and I see the birds hovering around a termite nest in a tree. I spot a large Lace Monitor approaching the same nest. Kingfishers are known to nest in termite nests, and when they have a nest they will defend it aggressively.
The Lace Monitor is clearly looking for a snack, whether its going to be eggs or young birds. It is approaching from above and this is a great position to get a good photo of the lizard! The birds do what they can, literally bomb-diving on the lizard’s head, which results in loud clonking noises when their hard, pointy beaks clash with its skull. I’m quite impressed with the brave opposition the kingfishers are giving the monitor. But unfortunately for them, the lizard has a tough skull. It couldn’t care less and makes its way into the nest to have its fill… The poor birds will have to start another brood… ‘
Laying eggs in a termite nest
Interestingly, Lace Monitors themselves also like to nest in arboreal termite nests! They may also nest in terrestrial termite nests, and if a termite nest is unavailable they may lay their eggs in a burrow or tree hollow. The reason they prefer to lay in termite nests is that after laying, the termites will seal off the hole that the lizard dug in it and this way protect and incubate the eggs! Isn’t that clever!?
Before it’s time to lay, the males first have to sort out who can mate with the receptive female. They get involved in wrestling fights, where they stand on their hind legs. The winner will mate with the female for several hours.
Once laid, a clutch of 4-12 eggs will incubate for around 7 months before the young lizards hatch. It is believed that the mother senses the event and will return to the nest to dig up and set free her little hatchlings! It takes 4-5 years for them to reach sexual maturity and Lace Monitors can live up to 20 years!
Lace Monitors and People
Are Lace Monitors dangerous? They certainly have the looks of a dangerous animal but, like most wildlife, they prefer to be left alone. When disturbed they’ll be quick to climb a tree, out of reach of danger. They are very powerful animals and have sharp claws and teeth. A bite may cause bleeding, swelling and pain, and possibly serious damage to the tissue – you could easily lose a finger or two! There is extensive research going on to try and find out whether their bites are (mildly) venomous or not, but so far this has not been concluded. Either way, it is obviously always best not to provoke them!
Some animals unfortunately have learned that they may find food around picnic areas and campsites. In this case they become more forthcoming which can be a bit threatening, especially around children. It is in the best interest of the animals themselves and their relationship with people if they find their own food. So it’s best to never feed them and also to make sure that you pack your food and your food scraps away where they can’t access them.
If we give them space, they will do the same for us and then we can keep admiring these awe-inspiring creatures from a safe distance!
If you watched last week’s episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’, you would already have seen these amazing animals in action (if you’ve missed it, click here), and in this week’s episode you will see even more of them! Enjoy!
If you are interested in purchasing the featured image ‘Lace Monitor’ or would like to see what it looks like on the various products, please head to my shop. Check out other images in my Australian Reptiles Gallery.