The ecology of an Australian reptile icon: how do blue-tongued lizards (Tiliqua scincoides) survive in suburbia?

Jennifer Koenig, Richard Shine*, Glenn Shea

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)


Although most species of large reptiles in the Sydney region are now restricted to remnant bushland, the blue-tongued lizard (Tiliqua scincoides) remains abundant. How has this large, slow-moving reptile managed to persist in the suburbs? We implanted radio-transmitters into 17 adult blue-tongued lizards and tracked them for six months (October 1998 to March 1999). Radio-tracked animals utilised 5-17 suburban backyards, but each lizard spent most of its time in a few 'core' areas near 2-7 shelter sites. Males had larger home ranges than females (mean of 12700 v. 5100 m2) and moved further between shelter sites. Gravid females (mean home range 1000 m2) were more sedentary. Lizards used corridors of dense vegetation to move between retreat sites, and actively avoided crossing roads. In sunny weather, lizards typically basked close to their overnight shelter for 1-4 h each morning until they obtained body temperatures of approximately 32°C. They maintained high body temperatures while moving about in the afternoon. 

In combination, the following ecological factors may facilitate persistence of blue-tongued lizards at our suburban study sites. (i) The most important subgroup of the population in terms of conservation are gravid females, which are highly sedentary and, thus, less likely to encounter the dangers of suburbia. (ii) The more 'expendable' males move about much more, but mostly in times and places that involve minimal risk from humans and their domestic pets. (iii) Lizards show strong site fidelity, spending up to 70% of their time in 'safe' locations; importantly, they avoid roads. (iv) Blue-tongued lizards readily utilise 'artificial' shelter sites and the commensal prey species (e.g. snails) found in most gardens. (v) These lizards can grow rapidly, mature early, and produce large litters. Because blue-tongued lizards have a long life span (over 30 years in captivity), populations of adults may persist for many years in the absence of recruitment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-227
Number of pages13
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

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