About Me

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Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Feather Care; it's life or death

A feather is a truly wonderful thing. Birds, the most numerous group of land vertebrates, owe their spectacular success to their feathers, which evolved from the scales of their dinosaur ancestors. The original function of these finely-divided scales was to provide insulation by trapping a layer of air around the owner's body (like the principle of double-glazed windows). In time they developed further to enable flight (one of only four times this has happened in the history of life on earth), and to form the basis of sometimes spectacular courtship displays. (And I have that in mind for a future blog post too.) Small wonder then that a considerable part of every bird's day is devoted to high-grade care and maintenance of its feathers. 

I don't want to spend a lot of time on the feathers themselves, though it wouldn't be hard to do so, but I do need to show you the basic structure, so you can get a better idea of what the birds in the following photos are actually doing.

This shows the basics of a feather (which I found on an outback roadside, in this case
the former property of an Australian Bustard). The most important single point
is that a feather isn't a solid vane, but comprises hundreds of fine barbs growing
from the central quill (or rachis).

If you click on this close-up to expand it, you can see the individual barbs.
What you can't see without a microscope is that the barbs are 'zipped' together by
rows of barbules along each side of the barb, lined with hooks along each edge,
which mesh like velcrose. If you gently pull on the feather to make an opening
like the one on the right, you can feel the resistance as the zips are opened.
If you run your fingers along the opening you will rezip the barbules.

And every bird must spend a considerable amount of time every single day in feather maintenance, including 'rezipping' every feather. Here are just a few of many photos I could have chosen, in a wide range of different birds, showing the attention to detail associated with the daily preen. The first three clearly show a single feather being rezipped.

Black Swan Cygnus atratus, Pambula, south coast New South Wales.
This bird is moulting its flight feathers, so is temporarily unable to fly.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, Canberra, attending to its wing feathers.
Yellow-billed Spoonbill Platalea flavipes, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra,
also paying careful attention to its crucial flight feathers.
 
Mistletoebird Dicaeum hirundinaceum, Milang, South Australia,
conscientiously working on his secondary flight feathers.
However there are very many more smaller feathers which play other roles, equally important, especially the contour feathers which cover the entire body and provide streamlining. These include the coverts which cover the base of wing and tail feathers, and the ear openings. Beneath the body contour feathers are fluffy down feathers for insulation. All of these also require care, but much of this preening occurs beneath the layer of feathers so it's not easy to see the detailed action. It's obvious what the bird's doing though! Much of this activity occurs during the day when the bird's finished its morning feeding, and while so occupied it can become quite absorbed in its work and relatively unaware of us watching it.
Blue-faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis, in a street tree in Griffith, NSW.
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis, Puerto Ayora, Galápagos,
low in a mangrove in the port.
Galápagos Flightless Cormorant Nannopterum harrisi, Isla Fernandina, Galápagos.
Obviously it doesn't need to work on its flight feathers, but insulation is critical in
the cold waters of the Humboldt Current.
Little Raven Corvus mellori, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW.
Again this bird was quite close to us, but engrossed its task.
Spinifex Pigeons Geophaps plumifera, indulging in some group preening near Alice Springs.
Many species, especially waterbirds, use an oily secretion from a gland on the back to spread on the feathers. This not only cleans but assists with waterproofing and acts as protection against fungi and bacteria, while keeping the feathers flexible.
Male Australian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae taking preening oil from the gland at the base
of his tail, before anointing his feathers with it.
As an alternative, many birds utilise powder down, derived from special feathers which grow constantly and never moult, and whose tips crumble into a talc-like powder which is used for cleaning and conditioning.
 
These Southern Mealy Parrots (or Amazons) Amazona farinosa,  here at Blanquillo Clay Lick
in the Peruvian Amazon basin, are so named for their abundance of powder down,
‘mealy’ meaning ‘floury’.
Not all preening is done with the bill however. Many species in a range of families have a serrated edge to the claw on the middle toe, which is used to ‘comb’ those feathers which can't be reached by the bill, to remove dirt, lice and used powder down.
 
Pacific Heron Ardea pacifica, in Grenfell, NSW, scratching a part of her body which is
inaccessible to her bill. The use of the middle (front) toe is clear.
Swift Parrot Lathamus discolor scratching its face, Callum Brae NR, Canberra.
It was an exciting time when a flock of at least 60 of this beautiful but Critically Endangered
little parrot spend some weeks in this woodland reserve in suburban Canberra in May 2021.
Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus scratching, somewhat awkwardly, in a backyard tree
in Nowra, NSW.
A Golden-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis which emerged from its reedbed habitat
at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands in Canberra to have a good scratch.
Equally essential to a feather's well-being - and thus to its owner's - is regular bathing, to remove dust, feather particles and perhaps parasites. All birds practise this regularly, even in cold climates or weather, which tells us that cooling isn't the main purpose (though of course in some situations it can be.) 
Austral Negrito Lessonia rufa, Argentinian Patagonia. She is bathing in a stream
fed by a nearby glacier, at 50 degrees south, so staying cool is not her chief issue!
May in Canberra isn't quite that cold, but this Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius
wasn't trying to escape the heat either.
Any shallow water can be used, from the edges of a lake...
Red-rumped Parrot pair Psephotus haematonotus, Lake Cargelligo, central NSW.
... to a small rockhole in the desert...
Crimson Chats Epthianura tricolor at Willie Rockhole, near the edge of the
Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. This hole, unsurprisingly, was attracting
a regular parade of bathers.
 ... or even a fallen palm leaf that has caught some rain water.
Young Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa in palm leaf bath, Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens,
north coast of NSW.
However bathing isn't the passive process that these photos might suggest. The bird works to force water between the feathers, pushing the breast into the water, rocking hard from side to side and flinging water around with the wings. Water is then thrown onto the back, first with feathers raised to let the water in, then the feathers are pressed flat to squeeze the water through them. This vigorous activity can make it hard to get a decent photo, and I've never claimed photographic expertise!
Male Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis, Canberra.
Silver-crowned Friarbird Philemon argenticeps in a Darwin back yard.
Australian White Ibis Threskiornis molucca, bathing at a popular human swimming
spot at Howard Springs, near Darwin.
Unlike the other bathers featured above, the friarbird in the Darwin back yard is using a small bird bath provided by the human inhabitants. This is perhaps the most important thing you can offer the birds in your yard, along with local plantings. And for reasons already explained it's important in both summer and winter. Here are a few birds enjoying the bath on offer.
Female Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus completely submerged (top right of the bath) in our
Canberra yard on a frosty June morning - indeed there had earlier been ice on the bath.
I took this photo from our balcony above it.
Double-barred Finches Stizoptera bichenovii and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin
Lonchura castaneothorax on the same Darwin bath featured in the friarbird photo above.
Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris in a garden near Mount Clunie NP,
far northern NSW.
Metallic Starling Aplonis metallica at renowned bird lodge Kingfisher Park,
near Julatten in northern Queensland.
It might seem counter-intuitive initially for water birds to need to bathe in additon to their normal swimming, but it makes good sense when you consider that most water birds are well-waterproofed so must make an active effort to get the water into their feathers.
Magellanic Penguins Spheniscus magellanicus bathing in a flock, in the icy
waters of the Strait of Magellan at the very tip of South America. The roiling water
is evidence of their intense activity to get the dense oily feathers soaked.
Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus vigorously splashing at
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra.
A variant of this activity is leaf-bathing, where a bird hangs in foliage during or after rain, sometimes upside down, opening wings and feathers to allow the water through.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo enjoying the rain.
It's not at all surprising that many urban birds have learned to use sprinkler hoses in the same way, flying through the spray or splashing in dripping leaves. Some will simply stand side-on to the spray, raising the wing on the sprinkler side to accept the shower.
Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes making the most of the hose in our back yard.
This is obviously fairly recently learned behaviour.
In the absence of water - but often when there is a choice too - birds will sometimes engage in a thorough dust bath, taking as much trouble to work the dust into the feathers as they do water. There seems to be no consensus as to why, but it is suggested that it might help to remove excess preening oil which might otherwise gum up the feathers, as well as perhaps playing a role in parasite removal.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus, deep in a dust bath
in a village on the island of Anchao, southern Chile.
Speckled Mousebirds Colius striatus crowding into a patch of dried mud
to conduct their dusty ablutions on Mount Kenya.
Finally there is the practice of sunning - spreading out the wings and opening the feathers in full sunshine - to assist in feather care. This one is a bit more complex as there are probably more than one purpose to it. For instance these vultures are certainly spreading out in the early morning sun, but I suspect that their major motive is to warm up before taking to the air in order to reduce the energy cost of getting such a big body aloft.
Black Vultures Coragyps atratus catching the early sun at Muyuna Lodge on the Amazon River,
northern Peru. Even in the tropics nights and early mornings can be cool.
True sunning for feather care however is quite different. I'm sure we've all got a fright at coming across a bird spread out and unresponsive on the ground (Australian Magpies are frequent practitioners), and being startled when it suddenly comes out of its stupor and hops away, perfectly healthy. Again the exact purpose has not been studied, but it seems as though it is an anti-parasite strategy. Sunshine can be fatal for fungi and bacteria, and it may force lice to leave the body, or expose themselves in moving away from the sun, where they may be more readily removed by the bird (though being in an apparent torpor probably precludes this idea!). Here are a few birds deeply engaged in their sunning. All four of the Australian birds featured were sunning in mid-summer so unlikely to be doing it for warmth.
Bar-shouldered Dove Geopelia humeralis, Kingfisher Park Lodge, north Queensland.
This one has raised its wing to allow better sun access to its flanks, a posture very
reminiscent of the Crested Pigeon in the hose above. We watched a few different birds
sunning in this spot - see the Macleay's Honeyeater below.
Common Bronzewing Pigeon Phaps chalcoptera sunning on a big granite boulder in
Namadgi NP south of Canberra.
Macleay's Honeyeater Xanthotis macleayanus enjoying the popular sunning site
at Kingfisher Park already mentioned. This bird was quite contorted.
Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata sunning in the garden below our balcony.
This one really did look dead or dying for a while!
Social Flycatchers Myiozetetes similis sunning on a log in southern
Peruvian Amazonia.
And perhaps that's more than you wanted to know on the subject, but I do think we get even more enjoyment out of nature if we understand - or even just try to do so - more about what we're seeing. If so I hope I've been able to help a little with that. And I am just a little obsessed with how absolutely amazing are feathers and everything to do with them!

NEXT POSTING THURSDAY 14 APRIL

I love to receive your comments and in future will be notifying you personally by email when a new posting appears, if you'd like me to. All current subscribers have been added to this mailing list and have already been contacted. This will mean one email every three weeks at the current rate of posting. I promise never to use the list for any other purpose and will never share it.
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Thursday, 3 March 2022

Dragons Rule!

This is a fully revised version of a blog I posted years ago,
with lots of new photos and updated information and taxonomy.

Well, in Australia dragons rule anyway. Of perhaps 350 species of dragon lizard (ie the Family Agamidae) in the world, around 110 are native to Australia, which is a very high level of diversity by world standards. Their origins go back at least 90-100 million years, as evidenced by fossils from across the globe, from south-east Asia to North Africa to South America. Despite this, dragons are no longer found in the Americas, but occur across Africa (and slightly into Europe), Asia and Australia. Agamidae is a 'sister' family to the iguana family (Iguanidae) of the Neotropics and some of the Pacific and, strangely, Madagascar. It's a funny thing, but this rather odd distribution of the iguanas neatly fits into the gaps left by the dragons; where dragons are, iguanas aren't, and vice versa. We can't explain it, but the situation is mirrored almost exactly by the two families of large constricting snakes, boas and pythons - presumably coincidentally, but it's quite a coincidence!

It is suggested that dragons (along with most other now-dominant groups of lizards and snakes) arrived in Australia about 30 million years ago as Australia drifted close enough to Asia for ocean rafting and island hopping to permit sea crossings. This is quite plausible of course, but it's not clear from the paper if DNA work exists to support the suggestion.

Gippsland (Eastern) Water Dragon Intellagama (formerly Physignathus) lesueurii, National Botanic Gardens, Canberra. This handsome male in his confident prime is showing most of the characters
which immediately distinguish the family. These include strong clawed legs on which
 he stands clear of the ground, and rough, even spiny, scales which don't overlap each other.
The tail is long and whiplike, and doesn't regrow if severed (unlike a skink's for instance).

For a really whippy tail please meet the Northern Two-lined Dragon Diporiphora bilineata,
here at Litchfield NP, south-west of Darwin. (This is a tricky genus, with ever-increasing numbers
of species recognised
, but thanks to Steve Holliday I think I've got this right. However it could
also be Yellow-sided Two-lined Dragon D. magna. Any comments welcomed!)
This Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps, Windorah, South-west Queensland,
was too cold to run away - the usual defence of dragons - allowing a good view of its spiky scales.
For comparison, here's a large skink of similar size demonstrating the basic differences; people are often uncertain as to which is which, but you can pick them with a bit of practice. However there are certainly some fairly smooth dragons (like the Northern Two-lined Dragon above) and some skinks with prickly tails. The postures though are pretty definitive.
Blotched Bue-tongued Lizard Tiliqua nigrolutea, Namadgi National Park,
in the ranges above Canberra. Like other skinks this is lying on the gound, with small,
fairly weak, legs and small claws. The smooth scales overlap at the edges, which
is better seen on the photo below of the same cooperative model.


Their family is so old  that, while we regard them as lizards, they (and the iguanas) are less closely related to other lizards than snakes are. One character not visible in the pictures above is the teeth; dragons have acrodont teeth, which means they don't have sockets, but are fused at the base to the surface of the jawbone. It's a common feature in fish and frogs, and isn't a very secure system, as teeth break easily. This doesn't mean they don't work perfectly well, and incautious handling of a wild Beardie left me quite efficiently lacerated on more than one occasion in my rash youth.

Nearly all dragons (and all Australian ones) lay soft-shelled eggs. She buries them - there may be as many as 30 - and leaves the young to burrow out again.
Southern Angle-headed Dragon Lophosaurus (was Hypsilurus) spinipes laying eggs in a
rainforest track, Lamington NP, Queensland. I've only been lucky enough to see this event
just this once, and a long time ago, hence the indifferent picture which is a scan of a
faded old slide.
And in a sort of segue, here's its close relation from rainforests much further north. 
 
Boyd's Forest Dragon Lophosaurus boydii, clinging to a tree trunk by Lake Barrine,
Atherton Tableland, north Queensland. We'd walked here before without seeing one,
but this time we went in January, the rainy season which most visitors avoid, and
we had the best wildlife experiences we'd ever had there. Loved this one!
On those long legs, most dragons can run at astonishing speeds, even rising onto their hind legs to do so. One group of Australian dragons is known as 'bicycle lizards' for this behaviour!
Crested Dragon or Bicycle Lizard Ctenophorus cristatus, west of Norseman, Western Australia.
Note the very long powerful hindlegs for running upright.
There is also the hint of the bright brick red on this dragon which will characterise him as breeding begins. This too is typical of many dragons. 
Painted Dragon Ctenophorus pictus, Cape Bauer, South Australia.
The handsome blue flush will spread to his face when breeding starts.
Gippsland (Eastern) Water Dragon Intellagama (formerly Physignathus) lesueurii,
National Botanic Gardens, Canberra; only old males attain these striking colours.
There is a healthy population of these beauties adorning the gardens.
Like many dragons these lizards climb well, but they also swim powerfully,
dropping from a branch into the water if disturbed. (Mind you, this particular population
doesn't get disturbed easily - they will come to outside tables at the
restaurant hoping for dropped scraps!)
 
Rainbow Agama Agama agama, Douala, Cameroon. Only the males attain these superb colours,
and only when breeding. At other times they are dull brown, as are females all year round.
There is an apparently healthy population of them on the footpaths and open spaces,
including petrol stations, in this huge crowded and polluted city.
This is the genus (Agama) on which the Family name Agamidae is based. Curiously it comes from a Creole word in a Suriname patois, meaning simply 'lizard'. It's curious because this is an African group, not represented in South America. Ironically the word itself appears to have been brought from West Africa by slaves who ended up in Suriname and used the word for local lizards, but the name was then incorrectly applied by European taxonomists to a mishmash of American and African lizards! In the end it seems that an African one was the first one named, so they remained as Agama while the American ones got different names. (Actually the story is even more murky than that, but that's enough of it as the lizards are more interesting!)

Male agamas are famously colourful.
Blue-headed Tree Agama Acanthocerus atricollis, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.
Breeding male above, and female (or possibly non-breeding male) below.
And yet another superbly colourful African agama, this one from Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.
Kenyan Rock Agama Agama lionotus making himself at home on the paths and steps of
our  lodge. He's lost the tip of his tail (and as noted earlier, it won't regrow); there are
several potential culprits, including a bigger male agama and the local mongoose gangs.
Augrabies Flat Lizard Platysaurus broadleyi, Augrabies Falls NP, northern
South Africa. This dragon lizard is very localised but abundant on the walls
of the gorges and around the waterfalls of the Orange River as it flows
through the dramatic stony landscape. The males are very colourful and
huge numbers of them can be present almost underfoot, but when we were
last there in 2019 drought was strong and numbers were low.
As just suggested, dragons can be very sociable, and interactions are common.
Agamas in open-air restaurant, Waza NP, northern Cameroon.
Gilbert's Dragon or Ta Ta Lizard Lophognathus (formerly Amphibolurus) gilberti,
Bladensburg NP, Queensland. The curious alternative common name comes from its habit of
'waving' to rivals, as this one is doing, to indicate that it is in its territory and aware of neighbours.
This Gilbert's Dragon is a young one and wouldn't dare to actually challenge an adult male, which are very handsome and imposing lizards, like the one below. 
Gilbert's Dragon, Fogg Dam, Northern Territory.
Like the little Ta Ta Lizard above, many dragons perch high to watch for both danger and prey - all are carnivores.
Bearded Dragon Pogona barbata, Temora, New South Wales. The name often starts with
Eastern to distinguish it from the five other Pogona species found throughout Australia.
They can adjust the melanin-bearing cells in the skin to turn almost black to absorb extra sunshine.

This Bearded Dragon in the National Botanic Gardens, Canberra,
has not only brought the melanin to the surface, but flattened itself and
turned side-on to the sun to maximise energy absorption.
These Bearded Dragons are common throughout eastern and south-eastern Australia, from Eyre Peninsula to Cairns, and are almost certainly the most familiar dragon to most Australians. Another common one is smaller and probably less obvious, but will certainly be known to many people around the south-east coast and fairly well inland.
 
Jacky Lizard Amphibolurus muricatus, Currarong, south coast New South Wales.
Like the Bearded Dragon it is often seen perched up off the ground on stumps or logs.
It is distinctively patterned and very fast.
Jacky Lizards are very common in coastal heaths, which are generally good lizard habitats. Here's another heathland dweller, from higher in the ranges than the Jacky Lizards go.
 
Mountain Dragon Rankinia diemensis, Blackheath, Blue Mountains, NSW.
Our understanding of dragon relationships (as with most other animal groups) has improved rapidly and dramatically in recent times with extraordinary new tools for looking right into their DNA, and the name changes are ongoing, including recognition of new species. The Mountain Dragon for instance was until recently included in the genus Amphibolurus with the Jacky Lizard but is now known to be quite distinct, with no other members of Rankinia.

I'm not sure when the name 'dragon' was applied to them, but it may well have been following Linnaeus' application of Draco (ie 'dragon') to the wonderful genus of 40 species of gliding lizards in south-east Asia. They glide long distances on membranes supported by extended ribs - I don't have a photo of them in action, but it's worth doing a quick search online, as they really are pretty wonderful. Here's a couple of species from Malaysian Borneo; sadly they weren't interested in showing off their skills while we were watching.
Horned Flying Dragon Draco cornutus, Batang Ai, Sarawak. If you enlarge the photo,
you can see on its side the pleats of the folded gliding membrane. The throat pouch,
or dewlap, is a transparent membrane used by displaying males.
Sumatran Flying Dragon D. sumatrana, Gomantong, Sabah.
Again you can see the folds of the gliding membrane if you enlarge the photo;
note the beautiful camouflage too!
While in Borneo we might as well meet another local dragon, a truly beautiful tree-dwelling lizard.
Green Crested Lizard Bronchocela cristatella, Gomantong.
This is a common and widespread lizard in south and south-east Asia.
The one below is from Sepilok, also in Sabah.
Here's another African agamid, from Oldupai Gorge in Tanzania (often incorrectly rendered as Olduvai), the famous archaeological site associated with very early humankind.
 I think it's a female Mwanza Flat-headed Rock Agama Agama mwanza, the adult males
of which are brilliantly blue and pink-red, but I'd be glad of any assistance. They were
common around the excellent interpretive centre, on and by the paths.
And another African arid land agamid, this one from north of Maroua in northern Cameroon.
I confess to an ulterior motive in including it here, in that I'm hoping someone
might be able to help me identify it!
Back in Australia, one of the most famous dragon lizards is the Frill-necked Lizard Chlamydosaurus kingii of tropical Australia, not to be confused with the Bearded Dragon, though the names are often interchanged.
Frill-necked Lizard, Mareeba Wetlands, northern Queensland.
Spectacular, but not very often seen by visitors as they tend to be only active in the wet season,
when fewer people visit. In the dry winter they spend time in semi-torpor in trees. A Frill-necked
Lizard used to adorn the Australian two cent piece back when they existed.

Also from the Top End, another tree-climbing dragon, though one without the cachet of the famous Frill-necked. The wonderfully monikered Swamplands Lashtail Tropicagama temporalis is found across the tropical north from the east Kimberley to Cape York. This one was in a bush alongside the bird hide at Mamukala Swamp, Kakadu NP.

Swamplands Lashtail, seemingly flaunting the magnificent tail.
(Again my thanks to Steve for assisting with this one.)

It is often said that Australia's great lizard diversity is founded on the abundance of termites in arid lands and termite mounds are key dragon habitat.

Tommy Roundhead Diporiphora australis, Mareeba, Queenland, on termite mound.

But it's in the vast arid sweeps of the inland, on the plains and in the ranges, in woodlands and on dunes, that the dragons really come into their own. They are one of the numerous attractions of the 'outback' for me, and I'd like to end this little Dragons 101 offering by introducing a small selection of these tough, charismatic little desert characters.

Slater's Ring-tailed Dragon Ctenophorus slateri, East MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory.
This is a good example of the way new genetic tools are revealing previously unconfirmed
species diversity. Where there used to be only one Ring-tailed Dragon recognised across
much of the desert country, now there are four.
Ctenophorus is the biggest Australian dragon genus, with some 34 species; we've already met three of them here, and here are three more, all at home in arid situations. 

Spotted Military Dragon Ctenophorus maculatus, Lake Logue NR, Western Australia.
Central Military Dragon Ctenophorus isolepis, Great Sandy Desert, WA.
These little dragons were common in the dunes of this great desert, darting between spiny
spinifex clumps. Feral cat tracks were widespread but these speedsters could
apparently mostly evade them. They are found in most of Australia's deserts.
 Eastern Mallee Dragon Ctenophorus spinodomus, Gluepot Reserve, South Australia.
This one was only named in 2019, and is a specialist in mallee scrubland with spinifex.
(And it would not move from the annoying grass blades in front of it!)

A couple more bearded dragons, before the familiar Eastern Beardie hogs all their limelight.

Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps, near Coober Pedy, northern South Australia.
It was a cold windy day and this character really didn't have the energy to run away.
It is found in a vast range across inland eastern Australia from north-western Victoria
to the Northern Territory central deserts.

Western or Dwarf Bearded Dragon Pogona minor, Lesueur NP, Western Australia.
Despite the minor and Dwarf names, at up to 40cm long it's not that small,
though smaller than the Eastern Bearded Dragon. Its inland western distribution
almost exactly complements that of the Central Beardie.

Gibber Earless Dragon Tympanocryptis intima, Bladensburg NP, Queensland.
These heat-lovers can be remarkably well-camouflaged against coloured desert stones.
These wind-smoothed stones, known as gibbers, washed from eroding hard caps of surrounding
hills, and cover vast plains in parts of the inland.

Finally, one of the most extraordinary dragons of all, which I first encountered decades ago crossing a busy highway on the Nullarbor Plain - I moved it far from danger but that was long before digital cameras. I've not seen a wild one since!

Thorny Devil Moloch horridus, Desert Park, Alice Springs.
Surely one of the most extraordinary of all dragons; despite appearances, a slow,
harmless ant specialist. A little more information about this fascinating animal here.

I hope you can love our dragons as much as I do - they're much more interesting and appealing than Smaug or the Games of Thrones crew!

I love to receive your comments and in future will be notifying you personally by email when a new posting appears, if you'd like me to. All current subscribers have been added to this mailing list and have already been contacted. This will mean one email every three weeks at the current rate of posting. I promise never to use the list for any other purpose and will never share it.

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