Backyard Buddies
Blue-tongued Lizard

Photo: Peripitus

Blue-tongued Lizard

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Australia is home to six species of blue-tongued lizards. They are usually grey with broad brown stripes across their back and tail, and of course their most unique distinguishing feature is their blue tongue.

You will start to see blue-tongues in spring as they begin emerging from their winter homes to look for mates. They are only active during the day which makes them easy to spot.

The reason for their blue tongues is so they can flick them out when threatened and scare off predators; bright colours in nature can often mean danger or poison. Blue-tongues will make loud hissing sounds and can rear up in anger to chase off threats. Blue-tongues have stumpy legs and cannot rely on quickly running away from predators so scare tactics are its first line of defence. Another tactic it uses is its very powerful bite and habit of not letting go.

While not poisonous, they can give a painful bite with their impressive jaw strength. Picking them up incorrectly can also pull off their tails. Although technically a defence mechanism to help them escape predators, this process isn't very good for them, especially in winter, as their tail is where they store their water and nutrients and it requires a lot of energy to regrow them.

There are six species of blue-tongues in Australia, and most grow up to 60 cm long. The most common types are:

The Eastern Blue-tongue. Widespread in south-eastern Australia. It's grey with dark brown stripes across its back and tail.

The Northern Blue-tongue. At home in the savannahs of Australia's tropical regions. They're orangey-yellow with darker stripes along their backs.

Blotched Blue-tongue, found in the highlands of south-west Australia. It's dark brown with light coloured blotches on its back.

The Shingleback, otherwise known as the Bob-tailed Lizard or Stumpy-tailed Lizard. Lives west of the Great Dividing Range. It's dark brown with large, rough scales. Most Shinglebacks have the same mate for their entire lives.

Mating for most blue-tongues begins in late winter through to December. If you see two blue-tongues looking like they're having a vicious fight, it's most likely mating. They can be quite aggressive towards each other and can end up with cuts and scratches but this is normal mating behaviour.

The female blue-tongue gives birth to live young three to four months after mating, which is very unusual in lizards as they normally lay eggs. Blue-tongues have between one and fifteen babies who are able to look after themselves just four days after birth. But it will take three to four years before they are fully grown.

The blue-tongue lizard eats plant matter and mostly slow moving prey like beetles, caterpillars, crickets, snails and other small lizards.

If you see them in your garden, try digging up some worms or curl grubs for them.

Like snakes, blue-tongue lizards shed their skin. During moulting season you might see them scratching themselves like a dog. It can be an uncomfortable time for them, especially the youngsters who shed their skin more often as they are constantly growing. A good way to help them out is to put a few logs and rocks around your garden that will give them a good scratching post.

As well as leaving rocks and logs in your garden, there are plenty of other tips for making your garden blue-tongue friendly. They love to forage in leaf-litter so keep a thick layer of mulch on your garden beds and plant some ground covers to offer them protection. They also like being near a water source so leaving out a shallow dish of water will keep them happy.

Blue-tongues can live as long as 30 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity.

Tip

The same bait used to kill slugs and snails can also kill blue-tongues. If you have regular lizard visitors, you won't need to use baits at all. Instead, deter snails from eating your plants by sprinkling crushed egg shells, ground coffee and sawdust around your plants as slugs and snails hate crawling on them.

Did you know?

The blue-tongue lizard has a "third eye" on top of its head. It is a small hole leading down to its brain that it uses to work out when it's night or day, and it helps regulate their body temperature.

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Quote

”...it’s all connected, your backyard to the big backyard and everything in between – we can all do our bit to help out nature.“

John - National Parks Volunteer, SA

Photo: OEH