Boisterous blue tongue lizards

Boisterous blue tongue lizards

The northern form of the eastern blue tongue is very rare and endangered due to the spread of cane toads.

The northern form of the eastern blue tongue is very rare and endangered due to the spread of cane toads.

Roaming the deserts, woodlands and forests, excluding rainforests of Australia are a group of iconic skinks- the blue tongue lizards. Due to their gentle nature in captivity blue tongue lizards, or “bluies” make excellent pets and have been popular with Australians for a very long time. Most people that grew up outside the cities are very familiar with at least one of the species.

Obviously the feature the blue tongue lizards are known for is the… blue tongues of all of the species. This marvelous piece of equipment serves more than one purpose. First of all it is used much like the tongue of a snake, the lizard flicks it in and out of the mouth to taste the air as it moves along in search of food. Secondly, when alarmed blue tongue lizards lift the head, flatten the body and flash the tongue at the threat. If that fails, the lizard follows up with a nasty bite. There is a rumor going around that these lizards may have some rudimentary venom, which seems unlikely but there may at least be some nasty bacteria present in the mouth. Old timers say that a bite from a blue tongue will re-appear once a year but this remains to be proven.

Say “aaahh”

Classification of blue tongue lizards

Blotched blue tongue lizards are cold specialists found in cool forests and woodlands of southeastern Australia

Blue tongues belong to the family Scincidae, the skinks; and the species we are looking at all fall under the Tiliqua genus: the “true blue tongues”. There are other “blue tongue lizards” and “pink tongue lizards” belonging to the genus Cyclodomorphus.

There are several species in Australia and New Guinea, only the pygmy blue tongue lizards are small, all of the others are large, impressive skinks and some grow to in excess of 40cm.

  • Pygmy blue tongue – Tiliqua adelaidensis
  • Eastern blue tongue – Tiliqua scincoides
  • Blotched blue tongue – Tiliqua nigrolutea
  • Centralian blue tongue – Tiliqua multifasciata
  • New Guinea blue tongue – Tiliqua gigas
  • Western blue tongue – Tiliqua occipitalis
  • Shingleback – Tiliqua rugosa
  • Irian Jaya blue tongue – Tiliqua sp

The Centralian blue tongue thrives in the red sand deserts of central Australia

Blue tongue lizards as pets

Blue tongue lizards make great pets and are super easy to keep, and as such are very popular, especially with children. Feeding them is no great drama as they eat everything from berries and bananas to insects and even snails. In captivity they rarely if ever bite and become very easy to handle. Wild caught specimens as pets is usually illegal and they carry parasites and are hard to handle anyway, so best find one of the thousands of legal breeders to get yours. As a bonus if a female gets pregnant you don’t have to worry about egg incubation as they are live bearers!

To finish off, this is a blotched blue tongue in full display! Keep fingers clear!

The enigmatic dumpling squid

The enigmatic dumpling squid

Eyes peering out of the sand may be the only clue of a dumpling squid

Eyes peering out of the sand may be the only clue of a dumpling squid

In several parts of the world there are a bunch of enigmatic little squid, commonly known as bobtail squid but I prefer the other name of dumpling squid, due to the comical, globular appearance of these funny little creatures.
So I headed out for a night dive with long-time friend Ron D’Arcy to see if we could capture a dumpling squid for some pictures. The plan was simple, simply search the shallows around Dromana Pier on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula after dark and see if we could scoop one up and take it onto the deck for some photos. In the past, these squid had been fairly easy to locate and catch. I have simply held my hand underneath them and they sat there and could be transferred into a container without an issue.

In this picture you can clearly see the chromatophores that allow the squids and octopi to change color in an instant.

Finding a dumpling squid was no issue this time, we had been in the water for only minutes and a dumpling squid appeared right next to a pylon. We chased it about for a few minutes and eventually caught it and swam over to the pier and set up the aquarium.
The tank was set up with a sandy substrate and black background and the little (yet fully grown) dumpling squid was placed carefully in. It was hard to photograph as it constantly swam over to the edge of the tank. But with some gentle coaxing the squid was encouraged to sit over the sand for some quick pictures before being gently and gratefully released. The dumpling squid zoomed back down to the sea floor only a metre below, no doubt heading over to its friends to tell tales of abduction…

The rather alien dumpling squid

The dumpling squid are certainly alien to us humans. Not only are they much plumper than the more familiar reef squids, but they bury under the sand with only the eyes showing by day or when danger threatens. The whole animal is iridescent green, and the body is covered in chromatophores. These special cells contain bags of pigment that can expand and contract to instantly change the color and pattern of the entire animal. Also, as a bonus, the dumpling squid can generate light on their underside so as they hunt shrimps and fish they make minimal silhouettes on the surface.

The dumpling squid is iridescent all over

Dumpling squid are fascinating enough, but a distant cousin is more spectacular yet…