Local native reptiles

Reptiles are a group (class) of animals that have a skin covered with scales and are cold-blooded. Some species lay eggs but others have live young. For the purpose of this review I exclude marine species such as sea snakes and some turtles. Apart from the larger species most people are unaware of reptiles as they keep a low profile. Many are nocturnal and most species try to keep out of sight of humans. The Illawarra has some 40 species, the majority of which are skinks.

Native reptiles of the Illawarra (excluding marine species) 

Family
Species
Common name
Chelonidae
Chelodina longicollis
Snake-necked Turtle
Gekkonidae
Phyllurus platurus
Leaf-tailed Gecko

Oedura lesueurii
Lesueur's Gecko
Agamidae
Amphibolurus muricatus
Jacky Lizard

Intellagama lesueurii howitti
Gippsland Water Dragon

Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii
Eastern Water Dragon
Varanidae
Varanus rosenbergi
Heath Monitor*

Varanus varius
Lace Monitor
Pygopodidae
Pygopus lepidopodus
Scaly Foot
Scincidae
Acritoscincus platynotum
Red-throated Skink

Anepischetosia maccoyi
Maccoy’s Skink

Cryptoblepharus pulcher
Snake-eyed Skink

Ctenotus taeniolatus
Copper-tailed Skink

Cyclodomorphus michaeli
She-oak Skink

Egernia cunninghami
Cunningham's Skink

Egernia saxatilis
Black Rock Skink

Liopholis whitii
White's Skink

Eulamprus quoyii
Eastern Water-skink

Eulamprus tenuis
Barred-sided Skink

Lampropholis delicata
Grass Skink

Lampropholis guichenoti
Garden Skink

Saiphos equalis
Three-toed Skink

Saproscincus spectabilis
Gully Skink

Saproscincus mustelinus
Weasel Skink

Tiliqua scincoides
Blue-tongue Skink
Pythonidae
Morelia spilota spilota
Diamond Python
Typhlopidae
Ramphotyphlops nigrescens
Black Blind Snake
Colubridae
Dendrelaphis punctulatus
Green Tree Snake

Boiga irregularis
Brown Tree Snake
Elapidae
Acanthophis antarcticus
Death Adder

Cacophis squamulosus
Golden-crowned Snake

Demansia psammophis
Yellow-faced Whip Snake

Drysdalia rhodogaster
Masters Snake

Furina diadema
Red-naped Snake

Hemiaspis signata
Swamp Snake

Hoplocephalus bungaroides
Broad-headed Snake*

Notechis scutatus
Eastern Tiger Snake

Pseudechis porphyriacus
Red-bellied Black Snake

Pseudonaja textilis
Brown Snake

Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens
Small-eyed Snake

Vermicella annulata
Bandy Bandy
Note: Those shown with * are listed on the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act (2016).


Urban reptiles

The most common reptile in the region is the Grass Skink, being found in gardens, heath, woodland and tall open forest. Similarly the Garden Skink is ubiquitous in gardens and the eggs of both species are frequently found in summer under bricks, pot plants and timber.  Less common is the Weasel Skink that is found in moist gardens with mulch and shade. Recently a close relative of the Weasel Skink, the Gully Skink has turned up at Stanwell Park in urban lots that support rainforest species in the mid-canopy. Historically the Gully Skink was found as far south as Sydney and it is likely that it made its way to the area by stowing away in potted garden plants. The Gully Skink is indicative of the anthropocene, that is a world where plants and animals are being moved around and mixed up by human actions.
The Grass Skink, the Illawarra's most common reptile,
can be seen in suburban gardens. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
The Gully Skink is a new arrival in the region. Image by Garry Daly ©.
Other skinks that live in urban landscapes include the Blue-tongued Skink (the largest skink to be commensal with urban humans), the Elegant Snake-eyed Skink, Eastern Water Skink, Barred-sided Skink and the Three Toed Skink.  The Blue-tongue is an iconic Australian species and persists in urban Sydney, testimony to its ability to adapt. I remember as a child finding lots of these lizards in an abandoned lot in Earlwood, Sydney 47 years ago. The tin roof blown off an abandoned house and scattered sheets of iron lay on Kikuyu grass.  The lot had sandstone rock outcrops and lots of snails – perfect criteria for Blue-tongues. Surprisingly this species is rarely found when doing foot searches in the bush. I suppose they see people from a distance and take cover.
The Blue-tongue Skink (also known as the Blue-tongue
Lizard) can survive in urban areas, though many
individuals end up as road kill. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
The Snake-eyed Skink lives on brick and timber fences being adapted to hide in narrow crevices. In the bush it is found under loose rock on rock or under decorticating bark. The Eastern Water Skink and Barred-sided Skink are members of the genus Eulamprus and typically members of this group like moist environments.  Hence the Eastern Water Skink lives beside creeks and in rotting logs.  The Barred-sided Skink also lives in decayed timber but mostly in the hollows of live trees.  However it can also live in moist rock crevices. I wired several Stag ferns to the stems of palms and now a colony of Barred-sided Skink live in the ferns.  They come out in the afternoon and perch upside down waiting for insects such as winged termites to land on the trunk.

The Eastern Water Skink lives in damp areas and can be
spotted in areas such as Puckey's Estate. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
The Three Toed Skink species lives under the ground and is unearthed when gardening or shifting mulch and compost.  It has a bright yellow belly and really small arms and legs. This species has its southern limit at the south-eastern end of the Illawarra (Comerong Island).  The only other lizard in the area that lives under the ground is Maccoy’s Skink. This animal generally likes cool shaded forests with fallen logs and has its northern limit in the Illawarra.

Few dragons live in the urban environment but the Eastern Water Dragon is abundant along Coalcliff Creek and can sleep under the houses that back onto that waterway. Elsewhere Water Dragon may live in backyards that border creeks and are common in Wollongong Botanic Gardens. From about the Minnamurra River south the Eastern Water Dragon is replaced by the Gippsland Water Dragon. These subspecies are races of the same animal and some individuals at Minnamurra River show characteristics of both races. Surprisingly there is a small population of Eastern Water Dragon at Shoalhaven Heads around Berry’s canal as elsewhere along the Shoalhaven River the Gippsland form is present.
Eastern Water Dragons persist in suitable habitat near
 urban areas. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
The Leaf-tailed Gecko may occur in suburbia in places along the northern Illawarra escarpment. This species takes refuge in sandstone rock crevices and is known to live under houses on brick walls and even between timber beams.  The exotic House Gecko has not been formally found in the Illawarra but the chances are that it has colonised this region. This species arrived in Australia via shipping containers and freight and spread out from ports in Darwin and Cairns many years ago. I found it in Gladstone in 1992, Brisbane by 2003 and Sydney in 2015 so the chances that it has arrived in the Illawarra are high. Fortunately this species does not compete with any of our native geckoes for food. You will probably hear this gecko before you see it as it makes a distinct “chick-chack” call.
Leaf-tailed Geckoes used their mottled colouration as
camouflage. The distinctive tail is not visible in
this shot. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
The Illawarra has one native species of freshwater turtle, unfortunately it is the only native species that gives off an offensive odour when handled. The Snake-necked Turtle (has webbed feet so is a turtle not a tortoise) lives in dams and creeks so is unlikely to live in suburbia, but it is seen by many urban people on warm humid days as they walk over the land to find new places to live and/or lay eggs.  Unfortunately this leads to many animals being killed by moving vehicles. Another huge threat to turtles is predation of eggs by Red Fox. Fox smell where the eggs are laid and dig them up. Fox can also grab animals by the head and just eat that part of the animal.
The Snake-necked Turtle, with the long, somewhat
sinuous neck on display. 
Image by Garry Daly ©. 
Few species of snake occur in suburban lots.  On occasion the Diamond Python or Red-bellied Black Snake may stray into someone’s place on blocks adjacent to the bush.  Apart from those species the Golden Crowned Snake is the most common species that lives in people’s gardens, particularly in the northern Illawarra where there are rock retaining walls in moist areas with rainforest.  The Golden Crowned Snake is nocturnal and when disturbed raises its head but never bites. The Swamp Snake as its name implies lives near wetlands but can also occur in yards with rank grass. People might confuse this species and the Small-eyed Snake for young Red-bellied Black Snakes.  Although venomous these species are not a threat to human life.
The Golden Crowned Snake may be seen in gardens and
lying on driveways (where it is vulnerable to being run
over by cars). 
Image by Garry Daly ©.

Rural reptiles

On rural land there are many more species of reptile as habitat such as fallen timber, rock outcrops, dams and creeks are usually present. Species such as the Jacky Dragon are fairly common living in fallen timber and may perch on rocks. The Lace Monitor needs a large home range and cannot persist in suburbia being attacked by dogs and hit by cars.  This species occurs at Stanwell Park but not elsewhere in the region! It turned up at the Park a few years ago coming down from the escarpment having not been seen there from 1960-2015. There are a few records of Lace Monitors from Seven Mile Beach but I not seen this species there. They are at Bomaderry, just outside of the area covered by this website.

Lace Monitors are large, heavy lizards that do not
do well in suburban areas. Image by Garry Daly ©.
The Heath Monitor occurs at Darkes Forest, outside the area covered by this review but may stray below the escarpment.  This species is highly associated with woodland that grows on sandy soils and sandstone outcrops. There are quite a few species of reptile listed in the table below that are also highly associated with sandstone outcrops, perched swamps and woodland being habitat along the top of the Illawarra escarpment and covering the catchment areas not included in the nominated study area. They include the Lesueur's Gecko, Heath Monitor, Scaly Foot, Eastern Three-lined Skink, Red-throated Skink, Copper-tailed Skink, Cunningham's Skink, Black Rock Skink, White's Skink, Black Blind Snake, Green Tree Snake, Brown Tree Snake, Death Adder, Yellow-faced Whip Snake, Broad-headed Snake, Red-naped Snake and Bandy Bandy.  They are listed here as people living near the escarpment might see them as they stray onto the coastal slopes. Species such as the Green Tree Snake and Brown Tree Snake are relatively recent arrivals to Australia and as the climate warms they will shift the habitat that they currently occupy and colonise more dense forest types along the east of the escarpment. There are some anomalies that I have found in these general distributions as the Black Blind Snake occurs at Dapto and Stanwell Park on clay-based soils.
Black Blind Snakes have a diet of ants and termites,
which they locate by scent using their tongue. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
There are a few species that are found along the coastal plain in rank grassland or semi-disturbed areas that people might see on occasion.  This includes the She-oak Skink that occurs around Port Kembla and the Swamp Snake that also occurs on the coastal plain. The Eastern Brown Snake and Tiger Snake are occasionally seen in forest along the escarpment but these are rare species in our region.
Eastern Brown Snakes have deadly venom but are not
common in the Illawarra. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
The keeping of reptiles as pets has become popular over the last 20 years as a result of changes to the law making it legal to keep reptiles and the advances in technology such as hot rocks and lamps. Many people now keep Bearded Dragons (Pogona vittaceps) and pythons such as Carpets, Diamonds and Spotted. Some people also keep illegal exotic species such as the American Corn Snake.  The trouble with reptiles is they have a habitat of escaping and consequently populations of animals may establish that are outside of their normal distribution. For example the Carpet Snake is just a rare or colour morph of the Diamond Python and there are intergrade animals found further north along the coast but not in the Illawarra. So escapees may breed with our local Diamonds and change the genetics of the Illawarra lot. I have heard of a feral population of Bearded Dragons at West Dapto but I doubt if they will persist as the rural areas are being swallowed up by urban development.  My big concern is for exotic species such as the Corn Snake becoming established. This species has such a wide physiological tolerance and ability to consume a wide range of prey that it would impact on our ecology. Unlike the House Gecko that does not appear to survive away from human settlement, the Corn Snake is highly adaptive and would happily live in the bush.

So what can you do to attract native reptiles to your garden?  Since reptiles mostly eat insects, other reptiles, birds and mammals, few species of plant can be advanced to cater for the diet of our local species. Larger lizards such as the Eastern Water Dragon and Blue-tongue do eat vegetation and fruit whereas juveniles of both species eat invertebrates.  So for these species the fallen fruit of Lilly Pillies and figs probably are eaten but for the most part planting species that provided refuge habitat (as well as habitat for small lizard prey such as insects) is what is required for reptiles.

Species that have dense foliage such as Gymea Lilly (Doryanthes excelsa) and Spiny-headed Matt-rush (Lomandra longifolia) offer hiding places but reptiles need more than just one species of plant. To attract reptiles it is best to have a messy backyard with a wide variety of different species and a range of hiding places.  You could say “Build it and they will come”. Habitat that reptiles use to hide and forage include mulch, dead timber, sheets of bark and stacks of rocks. Consider putting in ponds for Water Skinks, as well as frogs.  Reptiles like a patchwork of places where they can bask and shuffle to cover. Rock piles and retaining walls are excellent habitat. I have made several rock walls and put pipes and made tunnels behind the bottom row of rocks so Blue Tongues have places to retire. These are now colonised by a whole host of animals including Water Skinks, Jacky Dragon and Eastern Small-eyed Snake.  These animals do not live in the walls permanently but use the habitat as part of what is available in their home range.
Jacky Dragons can be encouraged into
rural gardens and properties. 
Image by Garry Daly ©.
For those with a real passion for reptiles then sheets of old corrugated iron laid down on grass is great habitat for a range of snakes and lizards.  Once I set out a row of tin on our place (when there was still grass on the property) and found that reptiles moved under the sheets in the afternoon and by mid morning dispersed as it got too hot.  I was surprised at how many animals used the sheets, again most used them for a short period and then moved on.

Useful plants to attract reptiles

Common name
Scientific same
Fauna attracted
Use
Spiny-headed Matt-rush
Lomandra longifolia
Grass Skink
Refuge
Elkhorn
Platycerium bifurcatum
Barred-sided Skink
Refuge
River Oak
Casuarina cunninghamiana
Eastern Water Dragon
Perch
Kangaroo Grass
Themeda triandra
Blue-tongue, Scaly Foot
Refuge


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