Blue-tongues and shearing handpieces

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!

A Shingleback Lizard thinks about crossing the road

A Shingleback Lizard thinks about crossing the road

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.

A bit closer to show the odd body shape and large scales

A bit closer to show the odd body shape and large scales

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.

Aggressive display showing its blue tongue

Aggressive display showing its blue tongue

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!

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10 Responses to Blue-tongues and shearing handpieces

  1. scrapydo says:

    Very interesting piece on this lizard .I haven’t seen any lizards here in NZ. Wonder if there are some? I kind of miss the South African lizards who usually sit in the early morning sun to warm up and then go on their way around the house or garden.

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  2. Helen says:

    Our lizards in Australia can be fun to find. You can pick them up, although I have not done it myself, but have watched my father do it several times. Once when driving with Mum we saw a snake on the road, and a few times I’ve met them in the bush. I like to take their photo and retreat the way I arrived. 🙂

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    • Madoqua says:

      It would be a braver person than me who would pick lizards up, but that is because I don’t like the feel of their scaly bodies. My excuse is that ecologically it is better to leave them be!
      With respect to snakes, I have come across quite a few and I don’t enjoy the encounters! I have broken quite a few sprint records as I went one way and reptile went the other!

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  3. Australia has some quite remarkable reptiles and bugs! The Shingleback looks like a miniature crocodile.Your post reminds me of ones of my favourite quotes . . .

    “You know what it says in my book jackets? “Hobbies: gardening –with gloves; fishing – with boots; travelling – with care.” – Dr Struan Sutherland.

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    • Madoqua says:

      A miniature crocodile is certainly a different way of considering a lizard! There is probably some common ancestry a gazillion centuries ago! Interestingly though, crocodiles lay eggs, whereas these lizards give birth to fully developed young – they are just smaller than the adults.
      I do like the quote – how true!

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  4. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!

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