The Whitsunday Islands are a pretty special place, home to many unique and incredible animals. Though the area is best known for the treasures hidden beneath the ocean surface there are some pretty intriguing and impressive flora and fauna on the islands themselves. One of the fascinating creatures you can see roaming the islands are the native goannas. Goannas are large lizards that live typically in the open forest areas on the islands, they are quite interesting to watch and make for some awesome photo opportunities.
Goanna is the name used for the Australian monitor lizards, of which there are 27 living species. The species of goanna we typically encounter in the Whitsundays is the Lace Monitor (Varanus varius). As mentioned earlier goannas are quite large lizards and range in size depending on the species, some reaching over 2 metres long. The lace monitors can reach 1.5 to 2 metres in length but are commonly spotted on the islands around the 1 to 1.5 metre range. Along with size the colour and patterns of goanna species vary also. They are predominantly darker in colour like browns or gray-blues, though desert species tend to be shades of yellow and orange. Most species have patterns in the form of speckles, spots or bands for camouflage. Lace monitors are generally dark grey with lighter coloured undersides and creamy coloured speckles and bands over their bodies.
Another distinctive feature you will notice very quickly are the goanna’s legs, they are very thick and muscly. With such muscly legs the goanna are able to run at great speeds, some species even rearing up on their hind legs to do so. All monitor lizards have another unique feature that is not so obvious which helps them run at speed for extended periods, the way they breathe. Other lizards use the same muscles for breathing as they do for walking, so running and breathing effectively at the same time is difficult. Monitor lizards however have muscular throats they use to pump air into their lungs, they can do this with ease even whilst running and so are able to run continuously for a very long time.
Goannas also have some impressive features they can use for both hunting and defense. Equipped with large claws on each of their toes, goannas are excellent climbers. They often climb trees as a means of catching prey like birds and their eggs, however they can use trees escaping predators or threats also. As well as these powerful claws, goannas have a dangerous bite! With many sharp teeth and venom to boot you want to keep your hands away from the mouth of these guys! The venom of goannas is not delivered through fangs like a snake but through a complex gland system in their jaw and gums, surrounding their teeth. Though goannas are not particularly aggressive their large claws can give you a nasty scratch or teeth a painful bite if you don't respect their space or they feel threatened.
Whilst out on your cruise through the Whitsundays you are most likely to see the local goannas, lace monitors, during the bush walks to Whitehaven Beach and the Hill Inlet lookouts. They love the open bush on the island, often resting amongst the leaf litter or even sunning themselves in a tree. At the southern end of Whitehaven Beach the lace monitors are even seen on the edge of the beach and bush giving some fantastic photo opportunities as they wander casually through picnic areas. Even though the lizards on the island are quite relaxed in the presence of people it is important to remember they are wild animals. It’s critical to give them respect and room to move freely, as well as resisting the urge to feed them.
So if you want an experience with some unreal reptiles forget Jurassic Park and head out on a tour with Wings Sailing Charters Whitsundays to check out the incredible goannas of the Whitsunday Islands!