The Reptiles of North Queensland
Updated: Dec 11, 2017
A guest post from Joel Brown, a PhD student studying in Australia and Czechia
An appreciation of the natural world often goes hand-in-hand with an appreciation of the vast biodiversity the Earth is home to. People will regularly spend eye-watering sums of money just for the chance to see a certain plant, animal, place, even a specific individual. We do this because (and I completely agree) you just cannot put a precise value on the feeling that certain encounters or certain places give us. As an insatiable reptile junkie, most of my “million dollar moments” come with encounters of a cold-blooded kind. For that, there are not many better places than Australia, so my PhD field work in North Queensland was a phenomenal opportunity to indulge my inner enthusiast.
One does not need to spend much time in NQ to realise that the striking aspect of the local wildlife is that it is just everywhere. I’m referring mostly to reptiles but that rule applies to birds, mammals, insects, you name it. Just being in the city – in my case Townsville – you can see an amazing array of reptilian wildlife. The Ross River, that runs through the city, is home to a population of the other Aussie crocodile species: the Australian freshwater crocodile.
The saltwater croc , or ‘salties’ as they are locally known, has a well-deserved reputation, to the point where it is not common knowledge that there are also ‘freshies’ in Australia too. They might bite if cornered, but are generally very wary of people and nowhere near as fierce as ‘salties.’ The cool thing about the Ross River population is that they are a relocated outlier – the freshies’ home territory is in the north of Australia, around Darwin, so the Ross River presents a unique opportunity to see a really cool species.
North Queensland is where the Australian tropical rainforests are, home to beautiful species like the Boyd’s forest dragon and the scrub python. My encounter with my first scrub python was, without a doubt, the best wildlife encounter I’ve ever had. We were working on one of our experimental buckets in the forest at the top of one of our mountain transects – each of these buckets is hanging from a tree – and in this particular case, there was a thick vine running parallel to the ground before curving upwards 2 metres away from this bucket that we’re working on. Its only when I went to move onto the next bucket that I notice this stunning python right there on the vine near the ground. I reassured my friend that this snake was not venomous and sprinted back to the car to get my camera. The following picture shows the position the snake was in when I got back to the site.
I then proceeded to spend an eternity (in reality maybe 50 minutes – but it felt like it) taking as many photos as I possibly could to capture this incredible moment. The elation of that encounter is something that sticks with you for as long as your memory permits.
Another fantastic aspect for reptilian diversity in NQ is the diversity of habitats in a relatively small area. Just an hour’s drive inland and the world resembles a much drier, open and rocky place. Here one can find species like the Eastern spiny-tailed gecko and the Box-patterned gecko, both stunning in their own right.
The Eastern-spiny tail is one of the ugly ones compared to some of its sister species (google Strophurus taenicauda).
My favourite character about geckos is their eyes. Superior photographers capture them a lot better, believe me.
What continues to astound me is that I saw and identified 62 species of reptile in my 5 months in FNQ, yet this is a drop in the ocean of Australian reptile diversity. Australia has over a thousand species, with many more to be described still. That I have so much more to see fills me with such an unbound, unrestricted sense of wonder. To me its representative of the fact that there is so much to see in the world, period. Our planet is one big playground with enough space for all to play. Luckily for me, my playground is that big southern continent with all its reptilian splendour.