Unexpected encounters with Australian Reptiles #5 - The Spiny Tailed Monitor (Varanus acanthurus)

Monday, Apr 23, 2012 at 00:00


I really enjoy stumbling across one of the many Goanna or Monitor species when travelling about the wide brown land. Even from the earliest days as kids, we were amazed and awed by the mighty goannas we'd encounter camping along the Murray. Nothing has changed and if I could find an "I love Varanus" sticker it would be on the bumper next to the EO one believe me. The Spiney tailed Monitor is one of my Favorites because of its unique nature and patterns of the very scales themselves as hopefully these photographs will show.

The Ridge-tailed or Spiney Tailed Monitor (Varanus acanthurus) is an attractively marked lizard with light brown ocelli markings (round spots with a darker centre) on the upper side. The head is patterned with dark brown and cream stripes. The tail has rows of rigid sharp spines forming ridges along its length. It has a forked tongue like a snake that is constantly flicked in and out detecting different scents. They have strong claws and jaws. Males of the species grow to be larger than the females and can reach 70cm in length.

Spiny-tailed monitors are diurnal, solitary ground-dwellers and can usually seen basking in elevated positions in early mornings and afternoons, often in pairs, They are very active burrowers often creating havens in termite mounds or digging deep into the soil. They also utilise fallen or dead timber and logs, fence posts and other man made structures.

These monitors prey on small lizards, mainly geckos and skinks and insects. When attacking prey the tail is used like a whip.

The Ridge-tailed Monitor is found in the northern half of Western Australia, Northern Territory and western Queensland. Also present on some of the associated islands. The Spiney tail is one of the most popular monitors in the reptile scene and it’s striking scale patterns helping to make it so. As a collectors species, it is incredibly popular in the US and Europe.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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