Twenty years ago today, in 1992, a small miracle happened on a roadside in the rolling grassy hills near Burra in the mid-north of South Australia. An amateur herpetologist stopped for a road-killed Eastern Brown Snake and, as you (apparently) do, cut it open to see what it had been eating. Fortunately it is a world where a great number of different sorts of people live... Anyway, to everyone's astonishment, what it had been eating turned out to be a Pygmy Bluetongue Lizard Tilique adelaidensis.
We were astonished because the species had last been seen 33 years previously in the Adelaide suburb of Marion, and we had given up and said our goodbyes. The bluetongues are a group of large skinks, some of them among Australia's most familiar lizards; here are a few of the others.
|Blotched Bluetongue (T. nigrolutea), Namadgi National Park, Australian Capital Territory.|
|Shingleback Lizard (T. rugosa), Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, Australian Capital Territory.|
|Western Bluetongue (T. occipitalis), Pinnacles National Park, Western Australia.|
The Pygmy Bluetongue however, at just 90mm long, is well under a third of their size. Another difference is that it has a pink tongue! Oh well... Its diminutive nature is better appreciated when we realise that its favourite dwelling place is the burrow of a wolf or trapdoor spider; once it has ousted the rightful owner it lurks in the mouth of the burrow and seizes passing insects and spiders. We're still learning more about it, though we know that, like other bluetongues, it gives birth to live young.
|Pygmy Bluetongue, courtesy Regional Council of Goyder.|
They are mostly children of the grasslands, and ploughing, cropping, overgrazing and changed fire regimes have all contributed to their decline. All the known populations are on private property and landowners are working with government to work out how to conserve them; surveys are being conducted for new populations, and fliers and other advertising have been produced to encourage people in the district to look out for them. For now though, it's cause for celebration that we've been given an opportunity this time to make some amends for past mistakes.