It was a hot summers day and we had been paddling our kayaks for a few days through small back creeks in Chowilla Game Reserve in South Australia. The milky water made vortices swirling around our paddles as we went, and the cool water on our hands provided respite from the scorching heat. Stands of small River Red Gums lined the water’s edge, providing refuge from the sun for numerous birds. In the distance the kek, kek, kek of a Sacred Kingfisher could be heard, and a pair of curious Apostle Birds cruised low in the over our boats watching us intently.
Chowilla Game Reserve is on the South Australian broader with New South Wales on the northern edge of the Murray River. The reserve contains floodplains and wetlands that provide an important habitat for waterbirds. The plains are studded with stands of River Red Gums and Black Box eucalyptus, and the numerous creeks that flow through the reserve provide good kayaking opportunities with plenty of places for bush camping.
We paddled out onto a straight stretch of creek that turned left after several hundred meters. Through the heat haze on the far bank I could see an animal. Long and low to the ground, but standing as upright as it could on its four legs. As we got closer the large lizard, well over 1 m long, came into view, and it was clear this creature was a Lace Monitor prowling along the bank. The monitor slowly wandered over to some small sapling gums trees at the water’s edge and climbed one but remained in sight. We watched for a while as the large lizard peered down at us before leaving it to its business.
Any large lizards are impressive creatures but Lace Monitors have the added bonus of a fantastic pattern over their body. On a dark background there are light coloured dots that form bands around the body and tail of the animal. Some bands are formed by larger dots with bands of smaller dots in between. This resembles the pattern of lace, and hence their name. Their heads are quite long and their throat droops down below, making them a robust looking animal. In parts QLD and NSW there is another form of Lace Monitor called the Bell’s form, which instead of having dots has broad yellow and black bands around its body.
Lace Monitors are the second largest lizard in Australia reaching 2.1 m long, only 30 cm short of the Perentie which can grow to a whopping 2.4 m. Lace Monitors are predators and will eat birds, birds eggs, small mammals and other reptiles, but they will also take the opportunity to eat carrion including road kill. Females lay their eggs in termite mounds which are either on the ground or in trees. She will dig a hole into the mound and lay around a dozen eggs inside. After she is finished the termites close up the hole sealing the eggs inside. The mound protects the eggs from predators and provides a constant temperature for them to develop in. When the eggs hatch after 8-9 months the female is thought to return to the mound and dig the young monitors out so they can begin exploring and surviving in their new environment.
We saw almost half a dozen of these large lizards on this trip and they are always impressive to see. They reside in areas well-wooded with trees from dry woodlands to temperate forests on the eastern margin of Australia. So next time you are out in woodlands or forests to the east, keep an eye out for these large beautiful lizards, and hopefully you will see them before they see you and disappear up a tree.