One of the best things about spending long periods of time in the bush is that you become much more observant of your surroundings. Spotting these little lizards was a product of plenty of time out of ‘civilisation.’Gareth Catt, regional fire management coordinator, 10 Deserts Project
This photo is of two long nosed dragon hatchlings emerging from a burrow. The fine, red sand that forms the background is a sand drift in Palm Creek, home to the semi-famous Palm Valley of central Australia.
Tracks, burrows, shadows and shapes give clues that warrant a little further investigation.
Most people wandering the valley wouldn’t have noticed these, with a body length of around 4cm there isn’t much of them. They just look like a small twig or leaf. I’m referencing two, though the second is hard to spot. It is just a head that is being kept down by its sibling as it attempts to emerge from the burrow. The dragon in the photo is basking and regaining some energy after the effort of hatching and then digging to the surface.
Dragons, like these, are all egg layers. Same goes for monitor lizards (goannas) and geckos. Skinks have a bunch of egg layers among them but also a few groups that give birth to live young. The humble but always impressive shingleback gives birth to up to three young that can come out at up to a third the weight of the mother. They are reported to mate for life and are the common large lizards around Perth. I’ve got a few that frequent my garden.
The young are totally independent from the moment they hatch.
For long nosed dragons, most of the maternal involvement ceases once the burrow has been filled in. The young are totally independent from the moment they hatch. The emergence here is their first look at the world above ground. Small dragons like these live fast and often die young, with many species having an annual life cycle.
They will feed voraciously on any insect they can catch, grow to be around 30cm long and hopefully avoid becoming a snack for something bigger than them. Full success is laying enough eggs so that they are replaced by more hatchlings so that the cycle can start again.
Dragons have very interesting behaviour, communicating by a series of head bobs and arms waves. They are often called ‘ta ta lizards’ in Northern Australia because of their curious waving habits.
Words and images by Gareth Catt