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Varanus flavirufus Print E-mail
Desert Sand Goanna

Extract from A Little Book of Monitor Lizards © D. Bennett 1995. Viper Press, UK

Varanus flavirufus flavirufus Mertens 1958

Varanus flavirufus spp.
Sand goanna, goanna x

Varanus gouldii was first described by Grey in 1838. Subsequently the animals from the extreme south of Australia were classified as a separate species (V.rosenbergi) and a desert race was described (V.gouldii flavirufus). In 1980 Storr described a new species V.panoptes, from animals previously assigned to V.gouldii, based on differences in scalation, the presence of rows of dark spots over the back in the V.panoptes rubidus and the presence of a banded tail tip in V.panoptes panoptes. Unfortunately the type specimen of V.gouldii is kept on the other side of the world (in London) and Storr did not see this animal before describing V.panoptes. In 1991 Bohme reported that the type specimen of V.gouldii was identical to the animals described by Storr as a new species. As a result V.panoptes is considered a junior synonym of V.gouldii and so the "new" species is entitled to the old name V.gouldii. Meanwhile the animals considered by Storr to belong to V.gouldii have no valid scientific name. The next available name is V.flavirufus,  the name used by Mertens (1958) to describe the desert races of "V.gouldii". Thus the desert form becomes V.flavirufus flavirufus, but the remaining races, which extend throughout Australia except for the extreme south, are currently nameless. This is highly unsatisfactory, because some people believe that the desert populations (V.flavirufus) form a separate species from the animals in more mesic areas, and that the latter animals (which now have no valid scientific name) may be a complex of more than one species. This makes any description of the group ridiculously complicated. Biochemical comparisons of the group throughout Australia are needed to properly resolve these very serious taxonomic problems. When adequate material is available to allow comparison between races from all over Australia any revisions to the taxonomy will have to allocate new names to animals that have been written about for over 150 years.

Varanus flavirufus
In summary; the animals referred to here as sand goannas or goanna x (V.flavirufus) are usually called V.gouldii gouldii in the literature. The desert sand goanna V.flavirufus flavirufus is usually called V.gouldii flavirufus. The animals known as V.panoptes in the literature should be called V.gouldii, and the animals known as V.gouldii in the literature actually belong to V.flavirufus. In older literature the name V.gouldii could describe the nameless actuality, V.gouldii gouldii, V.g.rubidus, V.g.horni, V.flavirufus or V.rosenbergi. Often it is impossible to deduce the correct identity of the animals concerned. Here I have tried to omit such information.

V.flavirufus is a very widespread species. They are found throughout Australia except for the extreme south (where they are replaced by V.rosenbergi) the extreme south-east (where goannas appear to be entirely absent) and parts of central Western Australia and northern parts of Western Australia and Northern Territory (where they are replaced by Gould's goannas). The taxonomic status of the animals on the islands off the northern coast of Australia is not clear, but considering that Gould's goannas are common both on the northern coast and in southern New Guinea islands such as Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpenteria are quite likely to belong to that species. Sand goannas  are rarely sympatric with Gould's goannas. The two species appear to have different habitat requirements. The sand goanna is restricted to sandy soils whilst Gould's goanna prefers harder substrates. In general it can be said that they will inhabit any area with  sandy ground, including forests, woodlands and scrublands. They are common in many areas (e.g. Onslow region (Storr & Hanlon 1985b), Bundaberg Region (Richardson 1976), Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth (Thompson 1992)) but reported to be uncommon around Shark Bay (Storr & Harold 1978), on the Nullabor Plain, Western (Brooker & Wombey 1978) and in Merriwindi Forest (Bustard 1968). Additional location data can be found in Mertens 1958; Storr 1980; Morris & Rice 1981; McIlroy et al 1985; Grundke & Grundke 1992b; Shea 1994).

Pattern and colour vary throughout the range. Storr (1980) suggested that specimens from the Kimberleys, which are darker and have less pattern than those found elsewhere, may constitute a separate race. The desert race V.flavirufus flavirufus has a brighter pattern and more reddish colouration than the anonymous form. Intermediate specimens are recorded from the Carnarvon Range and other desert fringes. Schmida (1985) notes that in the Sydney sandstone region Gould's goannas have a banded tail tip and are black with rows of prominent yellow spots. The banded tail tip is generally taken as being characteristic of  Gould's goannas  rather than sand goannas, which invariably has an unbanded tail tip.

Around Jabiru in tropical Northern Territory the sand goanna reaches a length of at least 42.5cm (males) and 33cm (females) SVL and becomes sexually mature around 32cm (males) and 28cm (females) SVL (Shine 1986). In the same area Gould's goannas grow to at least 67cm SVL and matures at 39cm (males) and 31cm (females) SVL.  In the Barky Tablelands of Northern Territory sand goannas grow to at least 40cm SVL (Pengilly 1981). On Archer River in the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland they reach a total length of about 90cm (Glazebrook 1977).  Three specimens collected in south-eastern Queensland weighed 1073-2562g (the largest had a total length of 91cm) (Johnson 1972, 1976) and specimens collected near Brisbane weighed between 89-1020g (Bartholomew & Tucker 1964). Largest found in a cemetery at Perth by Thompson (1992) was 1330g. Specimens of 30-35cm SVL weighed 300-750g (Thompson 1994). According to Storr (1980) the sand goanna reaches a total length of 160cm in Western Australia. Thus there appears to be considerable variation in the maximum size attained by these monitors in different areas.



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