'Elusive and cryptic lizard': hunt on in Melbourne for endangered grassland earless dragon

Discussion in 'Reptile News' started by cagey, May 24, 2019.

  1. cagey

    cagey Subscriber Subscriber

    Jun 4, 2010
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    Newly discovered species could soon be the first reptile on the Australian mainland to be declared extinct

    Calla Wahlquist

    Fri 24 May 2019 10.32 AEST Last modified on Fri 24 May 2019 10.33 AEST

    • A search is on in unexplored habitats around Melbourne for the grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla), feared extinct. Photograph: Will Osborne
      A newly reclassified species of lizard that is native to areas now paved by Melbourne’s suburbs could become the first reptile on mainland Australia to be declared extinct.

      A taxonomic survey of the grassland earless dragon, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal this week, discovered that the species classified as Tympanocryptis pinguicolla was in fact four species – one of which has not been seen since 1969.

      The missing lizard made its home in the grasslands of what is now St Kilda and Kew, and on the islands in the Yarra River. It was last spotted 50 years ago in grasslands between Melbourne and Geelong, most of which have since been overtaken by development.

      Zoos Victoria is undertaking survey work in an attempt to find the lizard.

      If it cannot be found, it would be the first reptile declared extinct on mainland Australia.

      The Christmas Island whiptail-skink or forest skink (Emoia nativitatis), which is listed as critically endangered under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, is listed as extinct on the IUCN Red List.

      The Christmas Island blue-tailed shinning skink (Cryptoblepharus egeriae) and Christmas Island gecko (Lepidodactylus listeri) are both listed as critically endangered under the EPBC Act and extinct in the wild by the IUCN.

      The lead author on the dragon paper, the Museums Victoria curator of herpetology, Dr Jane Melville, said she was hopeful that surveys in unexplored grassland habitats around Melbourne would unearth signs of Tympanocryptis pinguicolla.

      “There’s no question that this is of significant concern and may well turn out to be extinct, but at the moment Zoos Victoria are still hopeful that they’re going to come up with a population,” Melville told Guardian Australia.

      The Zoos Victoria threatened species project officer, Adam Lee, said the species was listed on the zoo’s fighting extinction program, which is a commitment to not allow any terrestrial Victorian vertebrates to go extinct on the zoo’s watch.

      “It was historically found around western Melbourne and through the temperate grasslands of the western Victoria volcanic plains,” Lee said. “Much of this has been swallowed up by agriculture, however there is still much unsurveyed land.

      “We are committed to continuing to look for this small, elusive and cryptic lizard.”

      The other related species make their homes further north: Tympanocryptis lineata in Canberra, with a captive breeding population at Canberra University; the newly named Tympanocryptis osbornei in the highlands near Cooma; and Tympanocryptis mccartneyi near Bathurst.

      The latter was named for retired national parks officer and reptile enthusiast Ian McCartney, who helped Melville’s team classify the Bathurst lizard. It has not been seen since the 1990s and is also now on an extinction watchlist.

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      A Tympanocryptis lineata in Canberra. Photograph: Will Osborne
      Currently, all four species are listed as Tympanocryptis pinguicolla in the EPBC Act.

      “They are currently listed under the EPBC as endangered but it’s hard to target a conservation management plan if you know there’s taxonomic problems and you have actually got separate species,” Melville said.

      Melville had earlier identified a fifth species, Tympanocryptis condaminensis, which is found on the Darling Downs in Queensland. It was recognised as distinct by the Australian environment minister in 2016.

      The grassland earless dragons are unique because they are part of the only group of dragon lizard species in Australia to live in temperate grasslands.

      Dragon lizards include frill-necked lizards and thorny devils. They are distinct from other lizards by being spiky, rather than smooth and shiny, and from the unique formation of their teeth.
  2. longirostris

    longirostris Active Member

    Jun 4, 2007
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    This paper has just added two more species to our ever expanding list of Earless dragon species. In the space of 10 years we have seen 8 species of Earless dragons expand to more than 20 with more to come. This a very messy complex to say the least. We have exactly the same problem with the Diporiphora and Ctenophorus complexes with new species being added as a result of splits and reclassification's that are just blowing the numbers of species into the stratosphere. When I got involved in dragon keeping 30 odd years ago there was 60 odd species in Australia. Now the number is approaching if not has already surpassed a hundred (sorry I don't know how many, I can't keep track anymore) and as I say looks like many more to come. Interestingly the explosion in species numbers has largely happened in the last 10 to 15 years with the growth in DNA analytical use forcing the reevaluation of many existing species' status.

    I think the paper makes an extremely valid point regarding the reclassification of this particular group of species from the single species of T. pinguicolla, by highlighting the necessity to get actual species status correct in order to correctly target, implement and manage appropriate conservation programs and plans. There is an inadvertent consequence that I would like to highlight and one that I think the authors are very aware of as the narrative drills down and identifies naming priorities. It is an issue that has actually been happening for some time with the explosion of reclassification and splitting of species brought about by the reexamination of existing species taxonomity and that is the issue of Licensed Wildlife Keepers Species Lists and what is actually allowed to be kept, in particular the inflexiblity of them and the failure of Wildlife Regulatory authorities in virtually every state to update them regularly.

    To illustrate my point, my breeding group of Tympanocryptis lineata that I bred this year and have eight of in my collection and were originally collected under a legal collection permit a couple of years ago in the Northern Territory are apparently now (as of the date of publication of this paper 24th May 2019) NO LONGER T. lineata. What the hell are they then??? Who knows!! I imported them and currently hold them in my collection as T. lineata. But now we learn the previously listed critically endangered species T. pinguicolla from the ACT/Canberra region is actually T.lineata by virtue of and applying naming order priorities as is appropriate and correct. I have the same problem with several other species that have been reclassified that I have in my collection that were legally acquired as a different species.

    With all the licensing and keeper reviews taking place in many states of Australia over the last 12 months, I have not seen any attempt to try and recognise and mitigate for the likely ongoing and future impact that this increased activity of reexamining and reclassifying where necessary, known species and the elevation and recognition of new species so that we have some sort of flexibility with this issue particularly with regard to electronic record keeping and lodgement of e-returns. Currently, certainly in NSW anyway, there is no way for me to lodge an electronic return with OEH that allows me to accurately list my holdings. More impetus and effort needs to go into addressing this area of licensing across all states that use e-record keeping. This is a major area of concern that really should be addressed as part of the review processes taking place now.

    Mark Hawker
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
    dragonlover1 likes this.
  3. dragonlover1

    dragonlover1 Subscriber Subscriber

    Sep 20, 2009
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    You raise valid concerns re the reclassification of reptiles, there are so many being reclassified and renamed that it is nearly impossible to keep up.
    One that should be reclassified is the Pygmy banded python which I keep. In NSW they are classed as Liasis stimsoni while in SA from where I just imported 1 they are Antaresia stimsoni. I know states hate to agree on anything but seriously ,what is it?
    I agree with the Antaresia part but disagree with the stimson. They should have a separate grouping as they are a different size,live in a different habitat,have different markings and even a different shaped head. The authorities recognize 4 childrens pythons while Antaresia experts recognize 5 with possibly more to come.
    As for the dragons I only have 5 species so I'd better get moving lol.

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