One of Australia’s ‘fantastic beasts’ stages conservation comeback
Unseen for more than 50 years, the Victorian grassland earless dragon is ‘back from the dead’, firing hopes that the three other species of the tiny lizard may be found alive in other states
READING LEVEL: ORANGE
The rediscovery of the Victorian grassland earless dragon – which was thought to be extinct* – has given scientists hope that other species* could also, in a manner of speaking, come back from the dead.
Until a group of the tiny 15cm-long lizards was found earlier this year, the creature had not been seen in the wild for more than 50 years, leading scientists to fear there were none left.
The same concerns are now held for another species of grassland earless dragon, from Bathurst in NSW, which has not been sighted since the 1990s.
Jane Melville, Museums Victoria Research Institute senior curator* of terrestrial* vertebrates*, said the Victorian species’ rediscovery had sparked hope that the Bathurst species could also be spotted again.
“A federal government department (of Climate Change*, Energy, the Environment and Water) is running community information days to try and … hopefully find it,” Dr Melville said. “That would be really cool.”
The department‘s Draft National Recovery Plan for the four grassland earless dragons of southeast Australia, is inviting public feedback until November 3.
Three of the four species – the Victorian, Bathurst and Canberra varieties – are critically endangered*. The Monaro grassland earless dragon is endangered*.
Until 2019, there was thought to only be one type of grassland earless dragon in southeast Australia.
But Dr Melville’s work in the field of taxonomy – “how scientists name and describe species” – found there were four, which paved the way for the Victorian species’ rediscovery.
“It meant the Victorian ones became their own species – and a species that hadn’t been seen since the late ‘60s,” she said.
“Since then, Zoos Victoria has been doing ongoing surveys as part of its Fighting Extinction project to try to find these creatures.
“They were uncovered by a consultancy* company. Luckily, they recognised the lizard as something different and unusual. It was such a big moment.”
Dr Melville said the Victorian variety measured “about the length of my hand”, had “eardrums with scaly covers and live down spider burrows”.
She said they were once commonly found in native grasslands of what is now St Kilda and around the Yarra River. But their numbers had dramatically declined due to habitat* loss and being hunted by predators* like feral cats.
Zoos Victoria, Museums Victoria and the Victorian government are working together to save the critically endangered species, doing surveys to find more of them in the wild and launching a breeding* program.
Dr Melville and her team are developing new ways to detect the creatures in their habitats, and “taking tiny clips of their tails to do genetics* work” to prevent the breeding of animals that are closely related.
She said everyday Australians could support this conservation* fight by learning about their local threatened species, including by visiting exhibitions like Melbourne Museum’s Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature.
The exhibition – which runs until October 8 – explores links between magical creatures from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and the real-life animals that inspired them, with the aim of promoting conservation.
- extinct: has died out, doesn’t exist anymore
- species: set of animals or plants with similar characteristics that can breed with each other
- curator: person in charge of the objects or works of art in a museum or art gallery
- terrestrial: relating to Earth, or living or existing on land rather than in the sea or air
- vertebrates: animals that have a spine
- climate change: long-term local, regional and global change in Earth’s weather patterns
- critically endangered: species facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild
- endangered: facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild
- consultancy: professional group that gives independent, expert advice on a subject
- habitat: the place where an animal or plant usually lives and grows
- predators: animals that hunt, kill and eat other animals
- breeding: having babies or offspring, producing young
- genetics: the study of how all living things pass down qualities and traits via their genes
- conservation: careful preservation and protection of something
- How long had it been since a Victorian grassland earless dragon was last seen?
- Approximately how long is the lizard?
- How many species of grassland earless dragon are there and where are they from?
- Why had numbers of the Victorian species dramatically declined?
- Which two blockbuster franchises have links to real-life creatures?
- Three of the four species of the grassland earless dragon are classified as what?
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Going on a lizard hunt
Work in pairs to go explore your school grounds searching for any bugs, lizards or other interesting creatures (not snakes!). When you find something, use the following chart to document your findings. See if you can find at least three.
Type of insect/bug/lizard:
Scientific name (perhaps look it up later):
Describe its features:
Habitat (where you found it):
How does it move:
What might it eat:
Are there many of them around the area:
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Personal and Social, Critical and Creative Thinking
Do you know of any creatures in your area that might need protection?
What could you do in your community to ensure these types of creatures have a safe place to live and breed so their species survives?
Do you think your local council takes into consideration native species to the area when planning for new projects and building? Explain your answer.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Civics and Citizenship, Critical and Creative Thinking
Read with Kung Fu punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu punctuation.
Practise reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.
Read and act three sentences before swapping with your partner.
Take two turns each.
Now ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up? Swap over?
Try acting out two sentences – are you laughing yet?