Lace monitor

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Lace monitor
Lace Monitor Tongue.JPG
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Varanidae
Genus: Varanus
Subgenus: Varanus
V. varius
Binomial name
Varanus varius
(White, 1790)

Lacerta varia White, 1790
Tupinambis variegatus Daudin, 1802
Varanus bellii A.M.C. Duméril & Bibron, 1836
Varanus (Hydrosaurus) mustelinus de Borre, A.P. 1870

The lace monitor or tree goanna (Varanus varius) is a member of the monitor lizard family native to eastern Australia. A large lizard, it can reach 2 m (7 ft) in total length and 14 kg (30 lb) in weight. The lace monitor is considered to be a least-concern species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


John White, the Surgeon-General of New South Wales, described this species as the variegated lizard (Lacerta varia) in 1790.[3] George Shaw reported that several specimens were taken back to England.[4] French naturalist François Marie Daudin gave it the name Tupinambis variegatus in 1802, and noted two forms.[5] German naturalist Blasius Merrem established the genus Varanus in 1820,[6] with V. varius as the first mentioned member set as its type species by John Edward Gray in 1827.[7]

French zoologists André Marie Constant Duméril and Gabriel Bibron described two specimens in 1836: one in their possession and one from the collection of English zoologist Thomas Bell as Varanus bellii "Le Varan de Bell".[8] This turned out to be a banded colour phase of the lace monitor that coexists with normal-coloured individuals, and is either autosomal dominant or codominant genetically.[9]

The lace monitor is monotypic; no subspecies are recognised. However genetic analysis of its mitochondrial DNA across its range revealed three main clades: a north Queensland clade separated by the Burdekin Gap from a clade spanning from southern Queensland through inland New South Wales across the Murray–Darling basin and into southeastern South Australia. This is divided from a third clade that spans coastal eastern Australia (Northern New South Wales to Eastern Victoria) by the McPherson Range and Great Dividing Range. This last clade is thought to have diverged from the first two clades around 2.7 million years ago, while these clades separated around 850,000 years ago.[10]

Genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA shows the lace monitor to be the closest relative (sister taxon) of the Komodo dragon, with their common ancestor diverging from a lineage that gave rise to the crocodile monitor (Varanus salvadorii) of New Guinea.[11][12][13] The divergence between lace monitor and Komodo dragon lineages has been calculated to have occurred around 13 million years ago,[11] or 11.5 million years ago.[10]

The species is commonly known as lace monitor, tree goanna, or lacy.[14] It was known as wirriga to the Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney basin,[15] and gugaa to the Wiradjuri people of southern New South Wales.[16]


The second-largest monitor in Australia after the perentie, the lace monitor can reach 2 m (7 ft) in total length, or 76.5 cm SVL (snout vent length). The male reaches sexual maturity when it has a SVL of 41.5 cm. Females are generally smaller than males, with a maximum SVL of 57.5 cm, and becoming sexually mature at a SVL of 38.5 cm.[14] The tail is long and slender and about 1.5 times the length of the head and body.[17][18] The tail is cylindrical at its base but becomes laterally compressed towards the tip.[19]

The maximum weight of lace monitor can be 14 kg (30 lb),[14] but most adults are much smaller.


Lace monitors are found in two forms. The main form is dark grey to dull bluish-black with numerous, scattered, cream-coloured spots. The head is black and the snout is marked with prominent black and yellow bands extending under the chin and neck. The tail has narrow black and cream bands which are narrow and get wider towards the end of the tail. Juveniles have more defined and prominent banding, with five narrow black bands on the neck and eight bands on the body.[19]

The other type, known as Bells form, is typically found in west of the Great Dividing Range from Woodgate, Eidsvold and Mitchell in Queensland to Bourke, Macksville and Port Macquarie in New South Wales. It has also been reported from Healesville, Rushworth and Murchison in Victoria and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.[9] It has a base colour of yellow-brown or yellow with fine black mottling and broad, black or dark brown bands from the shoulders to the tail. The top of the head is black.[19]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

These common terrestrial and often arboreal monitors are found in eastern Australia and range from Cape Bedford on Cape York Peninsula to south-eastern South Australia. They frequent both open and closed forests and forage over long distances (up to 3 km (1.9 mi) a day).

The lace monitor is considered to be a least-concern species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).[1]

They are mainly active from September to May, but are inactive in cooler weather and shelter in tree hollows or under fallen trees or large rocks.


Despite its large size and mass, the lace monitor is an adept climber. One was recorded climbing a brick wall to seek shelter in a thunderstorm.[20]


Male lace monitors gather around receptive females in the breeding season.

The females lay four to 14 eggs in spring or summer in termite nests. They frequently attack the large composting nests of scrub turkeys to steal their eggs, and often show injuries on their tails inflicted by male scrub turkeys pecking at them to drive them away.


Their diets typically consist of insects, reptiles, small mammals, birds, and birds' eggs. They are also carrion eaters, feeding on already dead carcasses of other wildlife. Lace monitors search for food on the ground, retreating to a nearby tree if disturbed.[19] They will also forage in areas inhabited by people, raiding chicken coops for poultry and eggs, rummaging through unprotected domestic garbage bags, and rubbish bins in picnic and recreational areas.

As they often swallow meat whole, they can be at risk of harm from some meat scraps, one was reported with a t-bone steak bone stuck in its throat and another with a plastic fork in its stomach.[21] Another swallowed six golf balls that a chicken owner had placed in their coop to prompt their chickens to lay eggs.[22]

They are preyed upon by dingoes and birds of prey, and like all Australian goannas, they were a favourite traditional food of Australian Aboriginal peoples, and their fat was particularly valued as a medicine and for use in ceremonies.[citation needed]


In late 2005, University of Melbourne researchers discovered that all monitors may be somewhat venomous. Previously, bites inflicted by monitors were thought to be prone to infection because of bacteria in their mouths, but the researchers showed that the immediate effects were more likely caused by envenomation. Bites on the hand by lace monitors have been observed to cause swelling within minutes, localised disruption of blood clotting, and shooting pain up to the elbow, which can often last for several hours. In vitro testing showed lace monitor mouth secretion impact on platelet aggregation, drop blood pressure and relax smooth muscle; the last effect mediated by an agent with the same activity as brain natriuretic peptide. Liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry found ample proteins with molecular masses of 2-4 kilodaltons (corresponding with natriuretic peptide), 15 kilodaltons (type III Phospholipase A2), and 23-25 kilodaltons (Cysteine-rich secretory proteins and kallikrein) in these secretions.[23] Washington State University biologist Kenneth V. Kardong and toxicologists Scott A. Weinstein and Tamara L. Smith, have cautioned that labelling these species as venomous oversimplifies the diversity of oral secretions in reptiles, and overestimates the medical risk of bite victims.[24]


The lace monitor was eaten by the Wiradjuri people; local wisdom advised eating lace monitors as they came down from trees as those that had eaten on the ground tasted of rotting meat.[16] The Tharawal ate the species' eggs, collecting them in sand on riverbanks in the Nattai and Wollondilly.[25] Goanna remains have been recovered in middens in what is now Sydney.[26]



  1. ^ a b "Varanus varius". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018. e.T83779090A101752385. 2018. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T83779090A101752385.en.
  2. ^ Australian Biological Resources Study (16 August 2012). "Species Varanus varius (White, 1790)". Australian Faunal Directory. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  3. ^ White, John (1790). Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, with sixty five plates of non-descript animals, birds, lizards, serpents, curious cones of trees and other natural productions. London: Debrett. p. 253.
  4. ^ "The Variegated Lizard". The naturalist's miscellany, or Coloured figures of natural objects. 3. Printed for Nodder & Co. 1789. Retrieved 9 May 2019 – via Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  5. ^ Daudin, François Marie (1802). Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, des reptiles : ouvrage faisant suite à l'Histoire naturelle générale et particulière, composée par Leclerc de Buffon, et rédigée par C.S. Sonnini. 3. Paris: :De l'Imprimerie de F. Dufart,an X-XI. p. 72.
  6. ^ Merrem, Blasius (1820). Versuch eines Systems der Amphibien. Marburg: J.C. Kreiger. p. 58.
  7. ^ Gray, John Edward (1827). "A synopsis of the genera of saurian reptiles, in which some new genera are indicated, and the others reviewed by actual examination". The Philosophical Magazine. 2 (7): 54–58. doi:10.1080/14786442708675620.
  8. ^ Duméril, André Marie Constant; Bibron, Gabriel (1836). Erpétologie Générale ou Histoire Naturelle Complète des Reptiles (in French). 3. Paris: Roret. p. 943. part 3.
  9. ^ a b Brown, Danny (2012). A Guide to Australian Monitors in Captivity. ABK Publications. pp. 171–172. ISBN 978-0-9758200-7-0.
  10. ^ a b Smissen, Peter J.; Melville, Jane; Sumner, Joanna; Jessop, Tim S. (2013). "Mountain barriers and river conduits: phylogeographical structure in a large, mobile lizard (Varanidae: Varanus varius) from eastern Australia". Journal of Biogeography. 40 (9): 1729–40. doi:10.1111/jbi.12128.
  11. ^ a b Vidal, N; Marin, J; Sassi, J; Battistuzzi, FU; Donnellan, S; Fitch, AJ; Fry, BG; Vonk, FJ; Rodriguez de la Vega, RC; Couloux, A; Hedges, SB (2012). "Molecular evidence for an Asian origin of monitor lizards followed by Tertiary dispersals to Africa and Australasia". Biology Letters. 8 (5): 853–855. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2012.0460. PMC 3441001. PMID 22809723.
  12. ^ Fitch, A. J.; Goodman, A. E.; Donnellan, S. C. (2006). "A molecular phylogeny of the Australian monitor lizards (Squamata:Varanidae) inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences". Australian Journal of Zoology. 54 (4): 253–269. doi:10.1071/ZO05038.
  13. ^ Ast, J. (2001). "Mitochondrial DNA Evidence and Evolution in Varanoidea (Squamata)" (PDF). Cladistics. 17 (3): 211–226. doi:10.1006/clad.2001.0169. hdl:2027.42/72302.
  14. ^ a b c Weavers, Brian (2004). King, Ruth Allen; Pianka, Eric R.; King, Dennis (eds.). Varanoid lizards of the world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 488–501. ISBN 978-0-253-34366-6.
  15. ^ Troy, Jakelin (1993). The Sydney Language (PDF). Canberra: Self-published. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-646-11015-8.
  16. ^ a b Green, Dick. "Wiradjuri Heritage Study" (PDF). Wagga Wagga City Council. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  17. ^ Ehmann, Harald. (1992). Encyclopedia of Australian Animals: Reptiles, p. 158. The Australian Museum. ISBN 0-207-17379-6 (Reptiles).
  18. ^ Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland: Cooktown to Mackay, p. 233. (2000). Queensland Museum. ISBN 0-7242-9349-3
  19. ^ a b c d Wilson, Stephen K.; Knowles, David G. (1988). Australia's Reptiles: A Photographic Reference to the Terrestrial Reptiles of Australia. Sydney: Collins. p. 361. ISBN 978-0-7322-0011-4.
  20. ^ Jones, Alan A. (2013). "Shelter from the Storm: An Unconventional Refuge for a Wild Varanus varius (White, 1790) (Reptilia: Sauria: Varanidae)" (PDF). Biawak. 7 (2): 54–55.
  21. ^ Gillett, Amber; Jackson, Richard (2010). "Human Food Scrap Ingestion in Two Wild Lace Monitors Varanus varius" (PDF). Biawak. 4 (3): 99–102.
  22. ^ Huxley, Jennifer; Shoebridge, Joanne; Larkins, Damien (2 April 2019). "Goanna narrowly avoids surgery after swallowing six golf balls in chicken coop raid". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. Retrieved 10 September 2019.
  23. ^ Fry, Bryan G.; Vidal, Nicolas; Norman, Janette A.; Vonk, Freek J.; Scheib, Holger; Ramjan, S. F. Ryan; Kuruppu, Sanjaya; Fung, Kim; Hedges, S. Blair (16 November 2005). "Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes". Nature. 439 (7076): 584–588. doi:10.1038/nature04328. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 16292255.
  24. ^ Weinstein, Scott A.; Smith, Tamara L.; Kardong, Kenneth V. (14 July 2009). "Reptile Venom Glands Form, Function, and Future". In Stephen P. Mackessy (ed.). Handbook of Venoms and Toxins of Reptiles. Taylor & Francis. pp. 76–84. ISBN 978-1-4200-0866-1. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  25. ^ Wesson, Sue. "Murni Dhungang Jirrar: Living in the Illawarra". Department of Education and Communities, NSW Government. CiteSeerX Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  26. ^ Attenbrow, Val (2010). Sydney's Aboriginal past: investigating the archaeological and historical records. Sydney: UNSW Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-74-223116-7. OCLC 659579866.


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