Darling Downs Earless Dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla)
This little fellow was on display yesterday in a Pittsworth Landcare display at Bunnings in Toowoomba.
It is classified as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). These acts classify flora and fauna as”not of concern”, “threatened”, “vulnerable”, “endangered”, and “extinct” - in that order.
One of Australia’s smallest dragon-lizards, it is only 12cm long including its rather long tail. It’s not really earless. The ears are just hidden behind scales.
The lizards’ natural habitat is the treeless grassland which grows on the cracking black clay soils of the Darling Downs. (A separate population of a very similar lizard, which may or may not turn out to be the same species, is found in southern New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT.)
The lizards come out in the daytime to look for the little insects which they eat - but they can be hard to find, because of their tendency to disappear down the cracks in the blacksoil. This year they’ve been a bit easier to see, as the good rains have closed the cracks. They have also made the grass grow, however (see article on Plains Grass below) - so the lizards can find have plenty of places to hide, in the gaps between tall tussocks. And they do need to be able to hide, as cats and foxes are very effective enemies.
It is breeding season, so males in breeding colour (bright yellow throat and chin) and pregnant females are about.
One of the most endangered environments in our area is the grassland, which once made the Darling Downs so famous. It persisted for a century after white settlement, when grazing was a major industry on the Downs, but has disappeared rapidly since the 1950s, as the grazing industry has moved west, replaced here by croplands. There are a few small protected areas, but no dragons have been found in any of them. Grasslands with a potential to be dragon habitat do still occur on roadsides, but are very prone to mismanagement from an environmental point of view. So the dragons are, at present, quite dependant on private landowners for their existence. They have been shown to be able to survive in intensely cropped areas, but must also appreciate the shelter provided in preserved remnants of grassland such as the one described below.