Monday, January 21, 2013


Australians are lucky because they have so many animals in their gardens. Michele Cotton and her family live in Point Piper, close to the centre of Sydney. They have designed their garden to create a habitat desirable for the wildlife, and in particular the lizards. This has been achieved by: not using poisons, having no pets, as dogs and cats are the worst predators for the lizards, minimal gardening and providing crevices and stones for the lizards to hide in. The garden attracts many bird species including New Holland honeyeaters, Azure kingfisher, silver eyes, willy wagtails, sparrows, lorikeets and ravens, plus flypasts of pelicans, pied cormorants, ibis, seagulls, black and sulphur crested cockatoos and sea eagles. Other inhabitants are brushtail possums, flying foxes and lots of lizards.

One of the most common llizard families found in Australian gardens is the skink. Of the 300 species, about 30 are found in Sydney. These range in size from 6 to 60 cm long. The Common Garden Skink (10cm) and the Delicate Garden Skink (8cm) are the species we usually see in our garden. Skinks are crevice dwellers and will happily survive in suburbia. Dragon lizards aren't usually found in back gardens, only in bushland and national parks. Four out of the 65 species are found in Sydney. They are egg laying, diurnal and eat insects and some fruit. Geckos are in the second largest family after skinks. They are small, nocturnal reptiles that emerge at dusk to hunt for insects. Four of the 100 species are found in Sydney. Geckos are egg layers (1-2 per clutch) and have a fleshy tail that can be dropped. The Southern Leaf Tailed Gecko is really common right across the Sydney sandstone basin. Its light sandy colour blends in perfectly against the sandstone. Some geckos squeak and can bite, but won't unless you pick them up. Michele Cotton, a vet and passionate botanist, doesn't use chemicals or lay traps so the geckos come inside her house and clean up the insects on the ground.

One species of reptile, the Blue Tongued Lizard (BT), prefers to live near people in gardens. It is a large skink, growing up to 45cm. It gives birth to 6-20 live young in summer to early autumn. The young fend for themselves after birth. When threatened it opens its mouth displaying a bright blue tongue and exhaling bursts of air. The eastern variety of the Blue Tongue can give a nasty bite but are quiet and generally harmless. Blue Tongues survive well in suburban gardens because they are very efficient reproducers, are very long lived (up to 30 years old) and are omnivorous (eat both meat and vegetable matter including fruit, berries, snails and insects). You must have specialist knowledge from a herpetologist and a licence to take a lizard as a pet. The Blotch Blue Tongued Lizard is less common in gardens because it prefers cold climates and lives mainly in the upper reaches of the Great Dividing Range. Remember Blue Tongues love strawberries so don't lay snail bait or use netting which they can become tangled in.

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