This juvenile Eastern blue-tongue lizard is sunning itself on the gravel before it starts to forage for snails, beetles and and fruit.
One of my favourite inhabitants in my Moruya garden is the native Eastern blue-tongue lizard, Tiliqua scincoides. I reckon the presence of this harmless* reptile is a sign of a healthy garden.
Two juveniles are living out the back. They are cold-blooded and one emerges from under the rear deck in the morning to soak up the sun. Once warm, Eastern blue-tongues forage on snails, beetles and fruit.
This morning whilst gardening, I spotted a second bluey sunning itself next to the compost heap. I threw a snail to this compost dweller. After a minute or two, it grabbed the gastropod in its powerful jaws and moseyed into a tunnel in the compost heap. Then, I heard the crunch of shattering snail shell.
A third EBT shelters under the front deck and catches rays on the deck during the day.
Healthy outdoor practices
It’s good practice to keep the garden healthy for the people, pets and creatures who use your outdoors. In my garden, I don’t spray or use snail bait and I improve the soil with locally scavenged material like seaweed and manure.
The same principles apply at the Downer micro-forest. Instead of treating weeds in the conventional way by spraying with glyphosphate, we took the healthier, slower option and solarised the weeds. We did this by covering the pile of weeds with left-over black builders’ plastic and mulch. The theory is the heat over many months will kill the weeds and seeds.
In a natural ecosystem, like a forest, there are lots of vegetation layers and I aim to replicate that layering in gardens and micro-forests. You can do this by planting dense groundcovers, grasses, shrubs, climbers and trees thus mimicking nature.
At my south coast garden, I use a number of rambling native ground-covers. They include: edible Warrigal Greens (Tetrgonia tetragonoides), Pigface (Carpobrotus) with an edible fruit that I find weird (sort of a salty-tart flavour), Creeping Boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium), Running Postman (Kennedia) and Kidney Weed (Dichondra). These plants scramble over one another and create a dense hugging mat that cools the ground and provides places for critters, like the Eastern blue-tongue to hide.
In my suburban neighbourhood, the biggest threat to slow-moving reptiles are domestic cats who kill the young lizards. Our dogs (border collies) emit a warning bark to alert us to a blue-tongues presence, but have not harmed them. In the wild, predators include birds like kookaburras and falcons and large snakes.
As blueys are slow movers their best chance of survival in a home garden is with lots of low cover – groundcovers, clumping grasses, thick mulch and twigs, logs and stone piles. In urban Canberra, we had a baby blue tongue living in a rock wall.
They are one of the largest garden skinks and grow up to 50cm long and are covered with brown-black bands and have an obvious blue tongue which they display when threatened. Females give live birth to up to a dozen young in summer which mature when they reach around three years. Herpetologist, Ross Bennett reports that in captivity some have lived to the grand age of 20 years.
By planting lots of groundcovers, grasses, using thick mulch and placing logs and rocks on the ground and avoiding chemicals/pesticides you can create a ready-made blue-tongue habitat. You just need them to come and visit you.
If you have a dog like a terrier or outdoor cats, with a strong drive to kill, these lizards will not last in your garden – they’ll either be killed or waddle off to a kinder environment.
Careful when mowing
Eastern blue-tongues like the cover of long grass so beware when mowing that you don’t accidently pulverise them into garden nutrients!
If you have one at home – congratulations, I reckon it’s a sign you have a healthy garden. Take the time to watch them in action. It’s sure to delight young and old.
Note: although Eastern blue-tongue lizards are not venomous they can bite and shouldn’t be provoked.
Ross Bennett (1997) Reptile and frogs of the ACT. National Parks Association of the ACT.