A good friend of mine came up with the great idea of me writing a blog on reptiles. For my fifth blog post, I am going to share with you some interesting information about our reptilian cousins native to Australia. Reptiles are fascinating and here in Australia you can keep a large range of them as pets. But before you run out and buy me one, it is important to note that they are terrible unplanned, unsolicited or surprise gift for anyone.
There have been five mass extinction events on earth and reptiles survived through the most recent three. As impressive as that sounds I feel like I need to expand on that point further. The first mass extinction they survived was the Permian mass extinction 251 million years ago. This extinction event has been nicknamed “The Great Dying” which killed off 96% of the species living at the time. This was followed by the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction 200 million years ago where 80% of species were lost. Lastly, only 66 million years ago, reptiles survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction where only 24% of species survived. Those odds are breathtaking and humans respect for these creatures is shown through how fearsome we portray them in our storytelling.
First on my list are snakes as seen in the 2006 surprise blockbuster Snakes on a Plane. Australia is home to 140 species of land snakes and 32 species of sea snakes and is the only continent where venomous snakes outnumber non-venomous snakes. If that scares you don’t worry, only 12 are considered likely to kill you with a bite.
The most dangerous snake in Australia is the Eastern brown snake which has the second most toxic venom in the world for land snakes and make up for roughly 60% of the deaths by snake bites in Australia. The reason for this is likely due to their main food source, mice, being found in populated areas. This combined with their potent venom, their bites are more frequent and fatal with victims collapsing in minutes and requiring multiple doses of antivenom to stop paralysis and blood clots.
Snakes collect scent particles by flicking their tongue, this allows them to smell prey and their surrounding environment. Their scales are made out of keratin, the same thing that makes up human hair and fingernails.
All snakes belong to the Toxicofera clade – or evolutionary family, the same family as the monitor lizard which I will get to in a moment and can be traced back to the Sauria clade which includes all reptiles including crocodiles and turtles.
Monitor Lizards/ Goannas
The word Goannas is a local term given to the monitor lizard when they were found by early European settlers of Australia. They are a good old fashioned styled lizard, seen as Godzilla – before he gets nuked (probably). When the first aboriginal settlers came to Australia around 49,000 years ago, they may have run into the Megalania, which is an extinct relative of the modern goanna. Weighing up to 620 kg and growing up to 7 meters tall their fossils have been found and dated to be around 50,000 years old. I feel like this is a good time to bring up the fact that when goannas fight they are known to rear up on their hind legs.
The Toxicofera clade refers to all reptiles which have toxin-secreting oral glands and their non-venomous close relatives including every snake, monitor and goanna on earth. Modern species of goannas have been found to have oral venom glands and it is possible that the Megalania were venomous, if they were they would be the largest venomous reptile ever found.
For all you New Zealanders reading this blog, you may be interested to know that the Tuatara actually comes from Toxicofera’s sister clade Rhynchocephalia with fossils from both clades have been found from the early Triassic period. The only living species of Rhynchocephalia are two types of Tuatara which can only be found in New Zealand. I find it fascinating that native species from two different countries started evolving separately 250 million years ago but their descendants can be found so close together geographically and are so visually similar. To put this is perspective, New Zealand only split away from Australia around 80 million years ago and snakes only started evolving separately from other Toxicoferans around 200 million years ago making goannas closer relatives in time with Eastern brown snake than the Tuatara.
Crocodiles, as seen in Lake Placid and Peter Pan (Tick Tock), can be found in the waters of the Northern half of Australia. There are two types of crocodile in Australia: The Freshwater crocodiles, which eat mostly smaller animals like fish, snakes birds and turtles are the friendlier type of croc with no record of an unprovoked attack on a person. The other type is the larger Saltwater crocodile which ambush and eat pigs, cattle, horses and other crocodiles. Both are protected species in Australia and are illegal to kill, which is an interesting fact to know while watching the scene in Crocodile Dundee where Dundee kills a croc with a knife.
Here are some guidelines set out by the Queensland Government to reduce your risk of being attacked by a croc, also know as being “Croc-wise”.
- Don’t swim where crocodiles live
- Crocodiles are ambush hunters, a crocodile can learn your pattern and arrange to “meet you” after figuring out where and when to next find you near the water’s edge.
- Avoid activities near the water’s edge or on sloping banks. Do your dishes, clean fish, and do other activities away from the bank and off of boat ramps.
- When boating for fishing from a boat, don’t dangle arms and legs over the boat or into the water. If you fall out of a boat, get back in as soon as possible.
Crocodiles are also found in Australian’s swimming pools which shows that you should be “Croc-wise” at all times when you are in Queensland, especially if you have been invited to a pool party.
The ancestors of the modern crocodile started evolving separately from snakes and goannas 250 million years ago. They are also closer related to birds than they are related to all other types of reptiles.
Turtles are the last reptile I am going to cover in this blog, they have been represented in TV shows and Films as characters from the comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Six of the Seven species of marine turtles appear in Australian waters and their life spans can reach over 50 years old. The Eastern long-necked turtles from Sydney can live up to an incredible 100 years old which brings me back to my earlier point of being an awful unsolicited gift for a friend. It is possible that their long life span is the reason that Master Splinter found the turtles in a sewer as a young boy from New York can’t be looking after 4 turtles for a 100 years.
Unlike the previously discussed reptiles, turtles have barely changed in the last 200 millions years and one of their secrets to survival is that sea turtles can each lay up to 100 eggs in under 20 minutes and up to 8 times each season. Unfortunately for the turtle, their young have a high mortality rate as they are often eaten by goannas, feral pigs or thrown into sewers (citation needed).
When we look at turtles evolution compared to other reptiles, they branch away from crocodiles with the snakes and goannas 250 million years ago. 40 million years after that they branch away from the Toxicoferans. The classification of various species of turtles start to diverge with relatives of the Eastern long-neck turtle appearing 163 million years ago then the first early sea turtles 50 million years later.
If you where hoping that I was going to start talking about how the world is secretly run by Lizard people I am sorry to disappoint you. I honestly believe that they have not infiltrated the ruling class which is even sadder because it means they are probably just humans. To make up for it, here is some good news, The sequel to Iron Sky called The Coming Race is scheduled to be released at the end of this year (or at the latest February next year.) I personally cannot wait, I did think the trailer for the first movie was better than the movie itself… but shit, it is possible the best trailer ever made. The movie is still enjoyable to watch with it’s clever and cheeky jokes poking fun at Hollywood and politics. Its sequel looks like its even more ridiculous, have a look at the trailers below.