I was recently travelling in the highlands of NSW, north of Goulburn. I had plenty of time and was able to stop at will along the road to take photos, which was wonderful. On coming across a fascinating mailbox, I pulled over to see whether it had any artistic potential.
To my amazement, I had stopped only metres from a large lizard. It was considering whether to cross the road (not a good idea!) and was not impressed that I had immediately lost interest in the mailbox and focussed on it instead!
It was a Shingleback or a Boggi Lizard – one of six species of ‘blue-tongued’ lizards that are found in NSW. It is actually a large skink and goes by the latin name of Tiliqua rugosa. Despite being described as ‘common’, I have only seen a handful of these lizards in all the years I have been working in the bush. Ironically, after seeing this one on the roadside, I saw another just a few kilometres further on too. It is the mating season though, so perhaps they are more mobile than usual.
Two other blue-tongued lizards are also described as commonly occurring in NSW. One of these I know well, because I see them often in my garden. Also a big lizard, the Eastern Blue-Tongue (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides) is quite different. It is smooth scaled and has bands of colour along the torso and tail. They often give me a huge fright, as they can resemble a snake if you only see a portion of their body (I am not overly fond of snakes!)
I did once hear that if you had Blue-Tongued Lizards, then you would not have snakes, but this is quite incorrect (unfortunately!). Some snakes will prey on the lizards, although I suspect they limit their diet to the smaller young animals.
These animals are named Blue-Tongues for the simple reason that they do indeed, have bright blue tongues! When threatened, the lizard will open its mouth and provide a rather intimidating display to ward off the would be attacker. If this does not work, it will also hiss.
An aside to this story relates to an alternative (very Australian) use of the word Boggi. Sheep shearers used to refer to their narrow shearing handpieces as ‘Boggis’, because they were shaped similarly to the Shingleback or Boggi Lizard! Nowadays, most shearers use wide handpieces, so the term is probably not quite so common any more. But if you ever happen to be in an Aussie shearing shed while shearing is going on, and you hear this expression, you will know where it comes from!