|Perentie in the wild|
|Distribution of the perentie|
The perentie (or perente) (Varanus giganteus) is the largest monitor lizard or goanna native to Australia, and fourth largest living lizard on earth, after the Komodo dragon, crocodile monitor and the water monitor. Found west of the Great Dividing Range in the arid areas of Australia, they are not a common sight on account of their shyness and remoteness of much of their range from human habitation.
Their status in indigenous Aboriginal culture is evident in the totemic relationships, and part of a dreaming, as well as bush tucker. They were a favoured food item among desert Aboriginal tribes, and the fat was used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Many are depicted in Aboriginal art and their accompanying stories such as the piece ‘Goanna Calling for Rain’ and ‘How the Perentie and Goanna got their Colours’.
The lizard can grow up to 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) in length although the average length is around 1.75 to 2 metres (5 ft 9 in to 6 ft 7 in) and weigh up to 15 kilograms (33 lb) — maximum weight can be over 20 kilograms (44 lb). Their rival for third largest lizard is the crocodile monitor. Crocodile monitors are longer, and often exceed 8 feet (2.4 m) in length, but perenties are heavier and bulkier than the crocodile monitor. However, perenties are relatively lean lizards, less bulky than either the Komodo dragon or the water monitor.
In late 2005, University of Melbourne researchers discovered that perenties (Varanus giganteus), other monitors and iguanians may be somewhat venomous. Previously, it had been thought that bites inflicted by these lizards were simply prone to infection because of bacteria in the lizards' mouths, but these researchers have shown that the immediate effects are caused by mild envenomation. Bites on human digits by a lace monitor (Varanus varius), a Komodo dragon (V. komodoensis) and a spotted tree monitor (V. scalaris) have been observed and all produced similar results in humans: rapid swelling within minutes, localised disruption of blood clotting, shooting pain up to the elbow, with some symptoms lasting for several hours.
Distribution and habitat
Perenties are found in the arid desert areas of Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. Their habitat consists of rocky outcroppings and gorges, with hard-packed soil and loose stones.
Perenties are not a common sight in Australia. They generally avoid human contact and will disappear before they are seen. Being able diggers, they can excavate a burrow for shelter in only minutes. Their long claws enable them to easily climb trees.
They often stand on their back legs and tail in order to gain a better view of the surrounding terrain. This behaviour, known as "tripoding", is quite common in monitor species. Perenties are fast sprinters, and can run using either all four legs or just their hind legs.
Perenties generally forage for their food, but are also known to wait in ambush for small animals. Prey items can include:
- Reptiles, including their own kind
- Birds and birds' eggs
- Small mammals
Large adults can attack a greater variety of prey species, including small kangaroos.
A perentie in the Perth Zoo, Western Australia
Closeup of perentie face, Perth Zoo
Pair of perenties in Perth Zoo
- Fry, Brian G., et al. (2006). "Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes." Nature. Letters. Vol. 439/2 February 2006, pp. 584-588. Pdf file available for download at: 
- Cogger, H. (1967). Australian Reptiles in Colour. Sydney: A. H. & A. W. Reed, ISBN 0-589-07012-6
- King, Dennis & Green, Brian. 1999. Goannas: The Biology of Varanid Lizards. University of New South Wales Press. ISBN 0-86840-456-X
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