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Varanus flavirufus Print E-mail

Desert sand goannas rarely exceed 100cm in total length. None of the specimens I have seen possess the bulk of adult V.rosenbergi or the nameless race. The largest specimen found by Thompson & Hosmer (1963) in the Great Sandy Desert measured 76.4cm TL. Those found in the Great Victoria desert have an average SVL of 32cm, with sexual maturity attained at around 25cm SVL. Males have significantly larger heads than females and may reach slightly greater lengths, (Pianka 1994). A healthy specimen at Laverton, Western Australia, with a SVL of 31cm (75cm TL) weighed 380g during midsummer (pers. obs.).

In the southern deserts at least, activity is restricted to the warmer months (September to February). The remainder of the year is spent underground. V.flavirufus flavirufus (and probably other closely related races) often shelter in shallow burrows that terminate just below the surface, allowing the animals to beak through the sand and escape if persued into the burrow (Bustard 1970; Greer 1989). Breeding in the Great Victoria Desert occurs from September to November. Clutch size may be smaller than in the nominate race; Pianka (1994) records a maximum of eight eggs in the Great Victoria Desert, Brooker & Wombey (1978) record seven eggs from a female in the western Nullarbor Plain. Bredl (in Bustard 1970) cites the case of a 107cm TL female from South Australia that laid 11 eggs in captivity. Hatchlings appear in January and February in many areas of Western Australia (Pianka 1970). Given the known incubation times in captivity it seems likely that the eggs take about a year to hatch in the wild. Sand goannas grow very quickly. Pianka (1994) suggests that they reach sexual maturity within a year. A specimen kept at the Dallas Zoo grew from 30cm to 75cm in 19 months (Murphy 1972). Irwin (1986) records that 27cm TL hatchlings grew to 33cm in three months. Eggs laid in captivity weigh 15-18g (Mitchell 1990) and in the wild desert sand goannas weigh around 11-15g shortly after hatching (Pianka pers. comm.). Card (1994b) records that hatchling sand goannas can weigh as much as 38g.

Mammals do not appear to be as important a food for the desert race as for those from wetter regions. In the desert lizards (agamids, skinks, geckoes and varanids) and reptile eggs are their most important prey. Pianka (1994) list 27 species of lizards preyed upon in the Great Victoria Desert. They also eat large numbers of beetles, orthopterans, spiders and centipedes as well as other small invertebrates, mammals and nestling birds. They will feed on carrion when the opportunity arises and take poisoned bait intended for introduced pests. Juvenile are more insectivorous, feeding especially on roaches (Pianka 1970, 1994). Houston (1978) reports that the desert goanna will frequent temporary pools in the desert during the rains and are able to remain underwater for at least several minutes. The habit of standing bipedally is well documented for Gould's goanna, but my impression is that  V.flavirufus flavirufus is less inclined to adopt a bipedal stance than Gould's goanna or goanna x, probably on account of its smaller body size.

Sand goannas have been bred in captivity a number of times (Barnett 1979; Irwin 1986; Mitchell 1990; Card 1994a&b, 1995b). Care must be taken to ensure that both members of a prospective pair belong to the same race. There appear to be no obviously external differences between the sexes, other than the larger head size of males referred to above. A number of authors testify to the aggressive nature of this species in captivity (e.g. Longley 1947; Johnson 1976; Delean 1981). In small enclosures larger specimens will eventually attack and injure any smaller room mates. Animals of similar sizes should be introduced to each other in spring and the male removed as soon as copulatory behaviour ceases. In large enclosures groups of animals can be kept together safely. Irwin (1986) kept five adults together in an enclosure with 78m2 of floor space. They do well on a diet of small lizards, mammals and birds supplemented with large insects, vitamins and minerals. In captivity several clutches of eggs may be laid in a year, which hatch after 169- 265 days. at 29-32oC. Youngsters will immediately accept lizards and small mammals as well as insects. They grow rapidly and should be housed separately. Garret & Card (1993) record that newly-hatched individuals respond more to the smell of crickets than to the smell of mice and geckoes. A specimen at the Dallas Zoo survived for over 18 years in captivity (Snider & Bowler 1992).

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