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Varanus flavirufus Print E-mail

Although they will climb trees to escape from predators, this is primarily a ground dwelling lizard. In the Jabiru area the sand goanna is found only in sandy woodlands whereas Gould's goanna inhabits woodlands, grasslands and is most common around rivers and pools. The sand goanna feeds mainly on mammals (bandicoots, mice and rodent-like marsupials) and other reptiles (skinks, geckoes, agamids, frogs, monitor lizards, snakes and reptile eggs). They also feed on insects (particularly lepidopteran larvae, orthopterans and beetles), fish and crustaceans (Shine 1986). Around the McKinley River in Queensland sand goannas are important predators of freshwater crocodile eggs (Crocodylus johnstoni) destroying up to 55% of their nests (Webb 1982). In Perth the diet of the sand goanna consists mainly of large orthopterans and spiders (Thompson in Pianka 1994). Elsewhere sand goannas are recorded to prey on birds and their eggs, tiger snakes, rabbits, frogs,  scorpions, centipedes, wasps and ants,  (Barrett 1928; Fleay 1950; White 1952; Berney 1936; Bustard 1970; Pengilley 1981; Losos & Green 1988). Stammer (1981) records that  specimen that mouthed a marine toad (Bufo marinus) died shortly afterwards.

The sand monitor is an excellent digger. Its limbs are comparatively longer than those of other varanids and its feet are huge and equipped with powerful claws. Glazebrook (1977) records that a specimen excavated a hole 76cm deep in 20 minutes. It probably retrieves much of its food from below the ground, suggesting that olfaction is at least as important as sight in prey detection. They have been seen striking at prey animals hiding under stones with the tail, in attempts to move them to more accessible spots (Eidenmuller, pers. comm.). Bustard (1970) found them particularly associated with rabbit warrens. He uses the name racehorse goanna (by which V.tristis is also sometimes known) in reference to the speed at which they move over flat ground, and describes their ability to run bipedally for short periods. Pianka (1970) notes that when walking normally desert specimens they do not drag their tails. However bulkier animals from wetter habitats appear to leave a clear tail trail (Sprackland 1992). Ritual combat is described by Thompson et al (1992).

In tropical areas eggs are laid in the wet season (January and February), in temperate areas during the spring and early summer (Shine 1986; Thompson 1994). Clutches comprise of between 3-11 eggs, measuring an average of about 6X3cm (Shine 1986). Berney (1936) records a specimen that laid five eggs in October (presumably in southern Queensland). He believed that the lizard might have picked up three eggs in its mouth and carried them to another hole when it was disturbed. A 60cm TL female laid eight eggs in captivity (Barnett 1979), another laid seven eggs (Irwin 1986). The sand monitor may oviposit in active or abandoned termite mounds when these are available (Cogger 1967; Bustard 1970; Green & King 1993). In temperate areas the lizards' activity is greatly reduced during the coldest months and even during the warmer months activity may be restricted to early morning and late afternoon (Green & King 1978). In tropical northern Australia sand goannas may have a similarly restricted activity pattern, with most movement during the mornings (Shine 1986). In South Australia sand goannas are most active during the summer. Daily activity ranges vary between 6,100 and 32,500m2 depending on season (Green & King 1978). At a cemetery in Perth Thompson (1992) estimated foraging areas over 4-18 days to be between 841 and 13,100 m2. In this habitat they moved to new areas every few days. Where leaf litter (which contained most of their prey) was abundant the lizards tended to forage in smaller areas. During the breeding season activity area averaged 90,000m2 with the larger animals covering greater areas (Thompson 1994). In the Northern Territory Pengilley (1981) collected road killed specimens and found a bias of 4:1 in favour of males.

Active body temperatures of sand goannas measured in the wild average 37.7oC in the Great Victoria Desert, with body temperatures as high as 44.7oC recorded (Pianka 1994). Mean body temperatures of 34.4-36.2oC are recorded by Light et al (1966). Telemetric studies have shown a range of 27.2-38.1oC (King 1980). In laboratory studies Johnson (1972) found that animals from central Queensland tolerated body temperatures of up to 40oC (head temperatures of 37.6oC) without signs of distress.

The desert sand goanna (V.flavirufus flavirufus) is found in desert regions of Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia. Storr (1980) considered the variation between this race and the nameless variety to be too gradual to warrant different names. However the limited information available suggests that the desert form leads a very different life to its counterpart in wetter areas.



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Since 1999 the Butaan Project has been studying the rare, endangered, and unique fruit-eating monitor lizards of the Philippines.  Butaan is just one of several races of frugivorous monitor lizards in the Philippines ("Pandan Biawak"), all of which are of at least as great a conservation concern as the Komodo dragon, but receive virtually none of the attention. Pandan Biawak occur only in lowland dipterocarp forest. The first species (Butaan) was discovered in 1845 and not seen alive by a scientist until the late 1970s. The next species (Mabitang) was discovered in 2001. Other species remain undescribed, and some may have gone extinct without ever having been recognised.





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