Lizards of Lizard Island

Lizard Island lizard.
Image: Claudia Reidy

When I told friends that I was going to Lizard Island for a couple of weeks they all seemed to have the same reaction: "why is it called lizard island?" Being the "sometimes scared of reptilians" person that I am, I was hoping that it was because the island was shaped like a lizard. Perhaps not.

There are several lizards which populate this beautiful island but none so striking as the goanna, or Varanus panoptes.
So far, in two days, I've seen at least four of the enormous but indeed remarkable-looking goannas which live on this appropriately named island.

The first one stopped me in my tracks, its beady eyes staring up at me as I tried to pass it on the track.

That one was slow, and certainly not bothered by my presence. The other few were far quicker, merely poking their long tongues out and darting into the bushes as soon as I was close enough to remark "ooh look. another one".

According to one of Lizard Island Research Station's directors, Lyle Vail, the lizards aren't friendly per se, but they generally keep out of your way.
"Sometimes if you're coming up and there's one on the path and it decides that it doesn't want to shift out of the way, it holds its ground and coil its tail quite tightly – they can use it to lash out at you as a way of defending themselves," Lyle said.
He said it is very hard to tell how many there are on the island but he would guess hundreds, not thousands.
The main diet of a goanna is grasshoppers, but occasionally they try for larger animals. "People have seen them take off with little birds, but generally the diet is grasshoppers and skinks. You often see them digging under logs to see what's there," he says.
LylLyle said they grow to around a metre and a half long and only come out during warm days – they tend to stay in their burrows during the cloudy, cooler days.
"They need to get the sun to warm them up early in the morning to get their energy," Lyle said.