Buggin with Bridgey – July 2023

Buggin with Bridgey is a Monthly report of sightings from the Let’s Go Buggin Cairns Nature & Photography Tour in the Cairns Botanical Gardens.  As the months roll by, subtle changes in the seasons bring sightings of new creatures and this report aims to give people a wrap up of the current animals seen as well as provide an ongoing citizen science account of our wonderful critters that can be seen in the Wet Tropics of Queensland.

Reptiles in the Cairns Botanical Gardens

and Wet Tropics of Queensland.

Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko sitting on a moss-covered log

Thanks for taking the time to read this Blog on Reptiles in the Cairns Botanical Gardens and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.  I’ve always had a love for reptiles, ever since I found a Blue Tongue Lizard in my backyard as a child and kept it temporarily as a pet.  When I was a teenager I was plucked out of my class on a school excursion to hold a huge python around my neck and that sealed the deal for my love of reptiles.  They demand respect but at the same time have incredible beauty and evoke a sense of mystery the world over.

Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius cornutus)

Probably my favourite lizard so far…even though I’ve seen them on just a few occasions, it was love at first sight!  It’s quite a large species, reaching about 14cm (5.5 inches) long.  Unlike the majority of geckos its toes are clawed and don’t have adhesive disks.  This is due to their arboreal behaviour.  They are nocturnal and hunt for arthropods in the cool of the night unlike many lizards.  Like many lizards they will lose their tail in an attempt to flee from a predator that has grabbed it.  They have also been known to charge at aggressors with an open mouth and making threatening vocalisations.

Closeup of Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko's yellow eye.

Top & above: Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius cornutus)

Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis)

One of the commonly seen reptiles around the Cairns Botanical Gardens, residential areas as well as the rainforests are these brown beauties.   Often quite docile, sometimes curious and potentially aggressive, each individual can be any of the above depending on the day.  They are very wriggly snakes and it’s taken me years and several occasions to get an image that I’m happy with.  These snakes are mildly venomous and their diet consists of other small reptiles, frogs, birds and small mammals.  This snake usually only grows to around two metres in length, however they have been recorded up to three metres in Guam where they are an invasive species.

Closeup of a Brown Tree Snake's head with its forked tongue out. Its perched at the top of a broken stem.

Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis)

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius)

Wide-spread down the east Coast of Australia and covering the majority of N.S.W.  these large lizards are the closest relative of the Komodo Dragon.   Their divergence is thought to have happened over 10 million years ago.  They are an impressive species to encounter and I’ve seen numerous individuals within the Cairns Botanic Gardens and surrounding rainforests.  They can reach two metres in length and 14 kilograms.  It’s now confirmed that these tree goannas are venomous, however the venom isn’t thought to be deadly.

A Lace Monitor Goanna on a log. A reptile that can be seen in the Cairns Botanical Gardens

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius)

Australian Scrub Python (Simalia kinghorni)

A large snake endemic to the North Queensland.  This impressive species is the longest and largest snake in Australia.  It’s considered to be an arboreal snake, but I’ve mostly witnessed them on the ground hunting in various parts of the Cairns Botanic Gardens.  I’ve seen at least two individuals around five metres in length and a few reaching four metres as well as a number of smaller ones ranging from 1-2 metres.  We usually see them on our night walks as they are nocturnal, but occasionally we do see them sleeping curled up like this one and having a snooze in the sun.

An Australian Scrub Python curled up in a coil having a sunbake in the Cairns Botanical Gardens. Just one of the many reptiles seen here.

Australian Scrub Python (Simalia kinghorni)

Boyd’s Forest Dragon (Lophosaurus boydii)

Super-ordained with flushes of green and yellow as well as a spiked crest, dewlap (chin flap), and large cheek spines.  Their amazing design and docile nature put these beautiful lizards are at the top of any nature photographers wishlist when they come to the Wet Tropics of Queensland.   Considered truly arboreal they have an interesting distinction in that they do not bask in the sun, unlike most reptiles.  Instead, they allow their body temperature to fluctuate with the air temperature.  A possible exception to this is the gavid (pregnant) females, who have been observed basking on the sides of roads.

Boyd's Forest Dragon © Bridgette Gower 2022 Aussie Macro Photos

Boyd’s Forest Dragon (Lophosaurus boydii)

Mourning Gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris)

A small Gecko species with an extremely wide range across the planet’s warmer regions.  Their success no doubt has something to do with the fact that they can reproduce via Parthenogenesis, which is a type of cloning that is known to occur in a variety of animals including in some fish, snails and some insect species.  The population of Mourning Geckos are primarily made up of females and some sterile males.  Their name ‘mourning’ gecko is given to them as a suggestion that their calls are for their lost mates, as there are very few males to mate with.

A Mourning Gecko female in the dug-out section of a tree guarding some eggs.

Mourning Gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris) guarding eggs

Chameleon Gecko (Carphodactylus laevis)

Another favourite amongst nature lovers and one on many photographers wishlist are these curious looking Chameleon Geckos.  I would consider these a medium-sized gecko reaching 13 cm (5 inches) and thankfully they are quite common, but seldom seen due to their stealthy hunting behaviour of remaining completely motionless usually while hanging downwards on small trees.

A Chameleon Gecko hanging on a small tree trunk facing the ground.

Chameleon Gecko (Carphodactylus laevis)

Common Keelback (Tropidonophis mairii)

A fairly plain-looking snake if truth be told…however these snakes are super important to the Australian ecosystem as they have an appetite for Cane Toads!  The introduction of Cane Toads (originally Bufo marinas, but re-classified to Rinella marina)  was an absolutely devastating decision by those in power allowing this eradication program to proceed.  There is however just a few examples of our native animals being able to tolerate the poison of the adults and tadpoles, this snake being one of them.

A grey-headed tan-bodied snake on some grass in the Cairns Botanical Gardens. Just one of the many reptiles seen here.

Common Keelback (Tropidonophis mairii)

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the Reptiles in the Cairns Botanic Gardens and the Wet Tropics of Queensland. If you would like to take a deeper dive into some other encounters you can check out my Let’s Go Buggin Project on iNaturalist here.

Keen for a Let’s Go Buggin Tour? Use ‘blog’ as the coupon code for 15% discount on your tour booking here.

Next Blog in late August.

🦎 💚 🐍


Bridgette uses a variety of Olympus OM SYSTEM Cameras and Lenses