Samantha Newton, Executive committee member, National Parks Association of NSW
The Lace Monitor (Varanus varius), or Lacie as it’s commonly known, is a large, tree-dwelling, lizard that often surprises bushwalkers by suddenly appearing halfway up a tree, or walking through a campsite. The surprise comes from their large size (1-2 m) which is perhaps magnified by their long tail, and often seemingly stealthy movement. Lace Monitors are carnivorous, and can move fast.

The Lace Monitor is one of over 50 species of Monitor Lizard (Family: Varanidae, Genus: Varanus), large lizards that can be found in Australia and the warmer areas of Asia and Africa, including the large Komodo Dragon.

Goanna is the common name for many of the Australian monitor species, including the Lace Monitor. The Goanna is a key figure in the cultural history and story-telling of many Aboriginal groups.

They are an important predator in woodlands of ranges, slopes and adjacent plains. Their range extends from coastal north Queensland, down the east coast of Australia, west to the NSW western plains, throughout Victoria, and into South Australia, where they are listed as Near Threatened.

The Lace Monitor reproduces by laying 6-12 eggs per year, often in nests dug out of termite mounds. They can live up to 14 years in captivity.

They eat birds and eggs, insects, lizards and small mammals. Like snakes, and unlike all other lizards, they have a forked tongue that they flick in and out of their mouth to detect the presence of food. They are also known to eat carrion and road kill, and unprotected food at campsites. Unfortunately, Lacies have come to associate campsites and picnic areas with food, probably due to some people feeding them, and others not putting food away properly. These individuals are more likely to allow much closer approach by humans than Lacies in more remote areas. Their bites are poisonous. Scientists are researching if this is due to venom produced by the lizard, or to toxic bacteria living in their mouths.

Lace Monitors are usually very dark in colour (greys, to greens, to browns) with light cream to pale yellow splotches, speckles or stripes on their upper and lower bodies. Their striking colouration makes them popular with nature watchers and photographers.

References

Thanks to Assoc Prof Martin Whiting, Macquarie University, for comments on the article.