Striking and Elusive Lace Monitor

Lace monitor

The Lace Monitor: Australia’s Impressive Tree-Dwelling Lizard

The lace monitor (Varanus varius), also known as the tree goanna, is one of Australia’s largest and most fascinating lizard species. Found throughout the forests and coastal tablelands of eastern Australia, this impressive monitor lizard can grow up to 2 meters (6.6 feet) in length and weigh as much as 14 kilograms (31 pounds). With its striking appearance, unique behaviors, and important ecological role, the lace monitor is a species that captivates the interest of both scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

Taxonomy and Physical Characteristics

The lace monitor belongs to the genus Varanus, which includes over 70 species of monitor lizards found across Africa, Asia, and Oceania. As a member of the family Varanidae, the lace monitor is closely related to other iconic Australian lizards, such as the perentie (Varanus giganteus) and the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).

Lace monitors exhibit two distinct color variations. The more common form has a dark grey to dull bluish-black base color, with numerous cream-colored spots scattered across its body. The head is adorned with prominent black and yellow bands that extend under the chin and neck. The tail features narrow black and cream bands that become progressively wider towards the tip.

Juvenile lace monitors display more defined and vibrant banding patterns compared to adults. They typically have five narrow black bands on the neck and eight bands on the body. As they mature, these bands become less prominent, and the overall coloration tends to darken.

Venom and Bite

In 2005, researchers at the University of Melbourne made a groundbreaking discovery: all monitor lizards, including the lace monitor, possess venom glands. Prior to this finding, it was believed that monitor lizard bites were prone to infection due to bacteria in their mouths. However, the researchers demonstrated that the immediate effects of a bite, such as rapid swelling, localized disruption of blood clotting, and intense pain, were more likely caused by envenomation.

While the lace monitor’s venom is not potent enough to cause serious harm to humans, it can still lead to significant discomfort. Bites on the hand have been reported to cause swelling within minutes, accompanied by a burning sensation and shooting pain that can extend up to the elbow and persist for several hours.

Habitat and Distribution

Lace monitors are native to eastern Australia, ranging from Cape York Peninsula in Queensland to southern Victoria. They can also be found in parts of New Guinea and Indonesia. These arboreal lizards prefer semi-humid to humid forested habitats, such as river basins and surrounding areas.

Although lace monitors are often spotted on the ground, they spend most of their time in trees, seeking refuge in hollows. When approached by potential predators or threats, they exhibit a characteristic defensive behavior: they will spiral around to the opposite side of the tree trunk, keeping the trunk between themselves and the perceived danger.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

As opportunistic carnivores, lace monitors have a varied diet that includes carrion, insects, reptiles, small mammals, and birds. In the spring and early summer, they primarily feed on insects, reptiles, and small vertebrates. As the season progresses, eggs and young birds and mammals become a more significant part of their diet.

Lace monitors are skilled foragers, searching for food both on the ground and in trees. They are also known to raid chicken coops for poultry and eggs, and they will readily scavenge through human garbage in picnic areas and campsites. Their keen sense of smell allows them to detect carrion from considerable distances, making them important ecological cleaners.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The breeding season for lace monitors occurs during the summer months, at least in temperate regions. Males engage in ritualized combat, grappling with each other while standing on their hind legs to assert dominance and gain access to receptive females. As many as six males may gather around a single female during courtship.

Females lay an average of eight eggs, although clutches of up to 12 eggs have been recorded. They prefer to deposit their eggs in active termite nests, both on the ground and in trees. When suitable nests are scarce, females will compete for access to them or resort to laying their eggs in burrows or hollow logs.

The eggs undergo a lengthy incubation period, surviving the winter months and hatching 6-7 months later. Hatchlings remain near the nest for a week or more before dispersing to fend for themselves. Juvenile lace monitors face numerous challenges, including predation and competition for resources, and only a small percentage survive to adulthood.

Ecological Importance and Conservation

As apex predators in their ecosystem, lace monitors play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance. They help control populations of smaller animals, prevent the spread of disease by consuming carrion, and contribute to the dispersal of seeds through their droppings.

Lace monitors have few natural predators, although they may occasionally fall prey to dingoes, wedge-tailed eagles, and wild boars. Historically, they were a favorite traditional food source for Australian Aboriginal peoples, who highly valued their fat for medicinal purposes and ceremonial use.

Like all native Australian fauna, lace monitors are protected by law. While they are currently classified as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they still face threats from habitat loss, fragmentation, and invasive species. Conservation efforts focused on preserving suitable habitats and controlling introduced predators are essential for ensuring the long-term survival of this remarkable lizard.

Lace monitor Fun Facts

Being among Australia’s largest lizards and have some fascinating characteristics. Here are some fun facts that make Lace Monitors so facinating.

  1. Lifespan: Lace monitors can live a long time, often exceeding 20 years in the wild. In captivity, with proper care, they can live up to 40 years.
  2. Communication: These reptiles use a variety of sounds, body language, and pheromones to communicate. They are known to hiss loudly when threatened and may use their tails as a defensive weapon.
  3. Climbing Skills: Lace monitors are excellent climbers. They have strong limbs and sharp claws that allow them to ascend trees quickly, often to escape predators or to find food.
  4. Diet: They are carnivorous and have a broad diet that includes insects, reptiles, small mammals, birds, and carrion. They are also known to scavenge food from human campsites and picnic areas.
  5. Nesting Behavior: Uniquely, female lace monitors often lay their eggs in termite mounds, where the heat generated by the termites helps incubate the eggs. After laying the eggs, the female will often revisit the nest to check on the eggs and even assist the hatchlings to emerge.
  6. Speed and Agility: Despite their size, lace monitors are fast and agile, both on land and in trees. They can sprint quickly to catch prey or escape threats.
  7. Venom: Recent research has found that lace monitors, like many other monitor species, produce a mild venom. This venom is not deadly to humans but can cause swelling and discomfort.
  8. Conservation Status: While lace monitors are not currently considered endangered, they face threats from habitat loss, vehicle strikes, and predation by introduced species like foxes and cats.

These fascinating traits make the lace monitor a remarkable example of Australia’s unique wildlife, showcasing the adaptability and diversity of reptiles in the land down under.

The lace monitor is a true gem of Australia’s diverse reptile fauna. With its impressive size, striking appearance, and fascinating ecology, this arboreal lizard captivates the imagination of nature lovers and researchers alike. By understanding the lace monitor’s unique characteristics, ecological importance, and conservation needs, we can develop a deeper appreciation for this magnificent species and work towards protecting it for generations to come.

As we continue to study and learn from the lace monitor, we are reminded of the critical role that all species play in maintaining the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystems. By safeguarding the habitats and well-being of the lace monitor and other native Australian species, we not only preserve an invaluable part of the continent’s natural heritage but also contribute to the health and resilience of the global environment.