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Varanus tristis Print E-mail
Mournful goanna, Black-headed goanna, Freckled goanna, Racehorse goanna

Varanus tristis
Varanus tristis tristis      Boulenger 1839
Varanus tristis orientalis   Fry 1913.

The mournful goanna is perhaps the most widespread of the Australian monitor lizards. It is found throughout the continent except for the extreme south and south-east and occurs on many northern islands. Christian (1981) reports that they are absent from Victoria and restricted to arid parts of western New South Wales. Fitzgerald (1983) records a specimen from north-eastern New South Wales. According to Houston (1979) they are not well known in South Australia. Low (1978) records their presence on Magnetic Island off the northern coast of Queensland. Storr (1980) gives a list of locations in Western Australia and Maryan (1989) found them at Peak Charles, Western Australia. I visited Peak Charles in 1991, a few months after an extensive fire, and could find no sign of them. Records of V.tristis orientalis in New Guinea and adjacent islands (Mertens 1950) probably refer to the V.timorensis type animals discussed previously. V.tristis centralis (Mertens 1957) is an obsolete name for V.tristis orientalis (Mertens 1958).

Varanus tristis
The name mournful goanna is somewhat misleading. It refers to the entirely black colouration of the populations of V.tristis tristis around Perth, Western Australia (tristis = sad). Mournful goannas from warmer (i.e. more northern) areas become increasingly less sombre in appearance. The freckled goanna V.tristis orientalis was described from animals collected on the Burnett River, Queensland. These animals lack the melanistic pattern of the mournful goannas and can further be distinguished by the less spiny scales on the tail (Fry 1913; Mertens 1958). Storr (1980) remarked that the few specimens he examined from Queensland differed in scalation from Western Australian animals, but did not give details. In the literature therefore, animals without black colouration tend to be described as V.tristis orientalis. The subspecies appear to be sympatric in many areas and both are found on the eastern coast of Queensland (Christian 1981). Hatchlings of both varieties are brightly coloured, but freckled goannas retain most of their juvenile pattern whilst in mournful goannas the pattern darkens and is replaced with varying amounts of black as the animals grow. Mournful monitors reach a slightly larger size than freckled monitors (about 80cm TL vs. 60cm TL). In the deserts both sexes reach sexual maturity at 20cm SVL. A specimen 29cm SVL weighed 307g, another 25cm SVL weighed 150g and a hatchling of 7cm SVL weighed just over 4g.

The mournful monitor is an excellent climber. Where trees are available the lizards spend most of their time concealed beneath bark or in tree hollows. Where trees are absent, or are occupied by other species, the goannas will live in rock crevices or under slabs of stone. Fyfe (1979) notes that at Ayres Rock they are often seen around buildings. They are often found along rivers and are known from forests, woodlands and scrublands but are also widespread in deserts. They are probably absent from the rainforests. Little is known about their way of life in tropical Australia.



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Butaan start to visit fruiting trees before they are large enough to swallow the fruits. They make repeat journeys to trees, perhaps to reinforce memory of the position of the tree. If the youngster survives it may continue to use this tree for many decades. Fruiting trees like this are a vital resource for entire populations of butaan. Learn more >

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butanvideo1.jpgA small collection of videos made by the Butaan Project. It took us three years to get the first moving images of wild butaan. Some recordings are made using camcorders tied to trees and triggered by passive infrared monitors, others are made by volunteers from camouflaged hides.


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