We had been on northern Eyre Peninsula for a few days searching the Mallee for some interesting creatures. We made our way along the Middleback Road between Whyalla and Kimba to have a look around Secret Rocks Nature Reserve. The Middleback Ranges contain some really beautiful landscapes. There are wide flat plains covered with the dull blue-greys of bluebush and saltbush, bordered by Mallee eucalyptus with smooth grey and red bark and red-green foliage, contrasting with the yellow spinifex understory. In the distance yellows, reds and oranges of the rocky ranges on the horizon sometimes show through. These rich and ancient colours are awe inspiring.
Secret Rocks is a private reserve next to Ironstone Hill Conservation Park which sits to the east. In the reserve is a weathered red-orange granite outcrop that rises up above the surrounding vegetation. We stopped at the small car park and made out way up the granite. Although the day was warm it was not particularly uncomfortable and made for a pleasant walk. On the granite are a number of small rockholes (gnammas) that provide water for animals in a landscape not renowned for having much. Some of the rockholes contained an array of small aquatic invertebrates zipping their way through the water. We reached the top of the outcrop to a beautiful view over the wide expanse of vegetation that surrounded us and a few other large granite outcrops nearby.
After admiring the view, we walking back down towards the car. I heard a rustle underneath a bush and I peered in to have a look. I searched though the shadows and I suddenly came across a small face looking back at me, a Peninsula Dragon! These are relatively small lizards and get to about 9.5 cm long from tip of the head to the vent, near the base of the tail. The tail, in itself can be longer than the rest of the lizard. I have encountered these lizards reasonably frequently while on Eyre Peninsula. The dragons that I have seen often have dark bands or blotches over their body, but in the females the colour patterns are much less well defined. There is a large amount of variability in the colours and patterns in Peninsula Dragons, and each isolated population has its own unique patterns. The males, which grow a bit bigger than the females, can also have some pretty impressive colours, such as bright oranges, reds and yellows.
Peninsula Dragons are only found on Eyre Peninsula and a little further north, including some offshore islands. The dragons can often be found sitting in protruding rocks and when disturbed dart off into a crevice and vanish. One of their other names is the Peninsula crevice-dragon. Sometimes though, they can be remarkably relaxed and sit in the open and allow you to watch them for quite some time. They communicate with other dragons by undertaking behaviours such as head bobbing, push-ups and tail curling. I have witnessed some of these behaviours before, in these, as well as other species of dragons but I often can only see the one dragon. If the dragon is communicating to me, frankly, I don’t know what it is trying to say.
The adult Peninsula Dragons tend to be found on larger rocky outcrops with deep crevices, compared to young lizards which may be on scree or smaller outcrops. The larger outcrops provide better habitat, including better shelter from predators and poor weather conditions. The adult Peninsula Dragons may displace the immature lizards, as in some other dragons, or there may just be better survival of the lizards on the big outcrops.
We left the dragon at Secret Rocks to its business of watching over its domain while we went to search for some other creatures in the Mallee. Eyre Peninsula is a stunning place with wonderful landscapes and heaps to do for people interested in nature. If you ever find yourself on Eyre Peninsula, have a look around some rocky outcrops for these little lizards, their colours and behaviours rarely disappoint.