The spotted tree monitor (Varanus scalaris) was my first goanna in the NT. My first day in the field I surprised one that was basking on a large fallen eucalypt. It jumped to the ground and scurried up a nearby tree, freezing as we made eye contact. I was too stunned to grab the camera around my neck, and in another instant it had moved behind the tree. Spotted tree monitors often use tree hollows as refuges, and the lizard had concealed itself perfectly inside the trunk — outsmarted by a goanna. As it goes with most cool first encounters, I didn’t see another scalaris for three months… Yesterday just as I had finished taking irradiance data, a storm loomed over the forest. I was routing my way out of the forest when I noticed a small figure shift behind a fallen branch. Initially I assumed it was a large gecko, but as I moved around the branch a miniature goanna was peering back at me. Although the spotted tree monitor is a small arboreal species (~25cm SVL) this individual was evidently very young, just 15cm without the tail. V. scalaris occurs throughout savannah woodlands in Northern Australia across the islands of the Torres Strait to southern Papua New Guinea. Many morphs have been described, and taxonomic revision is needed for the entire V. scalaris complex.
Photographed after disturbance