The Forest Dragons (Hypsilurus spinipes) of the Border Ranges National Park

Looking into the eye of the southern forest dragon

Looking into the eye of the southern forest dragon

Have you ever walked through the forest and felt like you were being watched. Well if you were walking in the Border Ranges national park of New South Wales, you probably were being watched by forest dragons!

The forest dragons I’m talking about are not the kind you’ll see in the movies. They’re a native Australian lizard called Hypsilurus spinipes or, the Southern Forest Dragon. They’re grey to brown in colour with spiny necks and about 30 cm long with half of that being their tail.

Funny thing is though, these guys are not that uncommon, but they are rarely seen. They cling to tree branches and trunks, remaining motionless and blending in with their fantastic camouflage. If you get too close though they slowly move around the tree trunk so that they are always on the opposite side of it to you. You never see them.

Is there a forest dragon on the other side of this red cedar tree

Is there a forest dragon on the other side of this red cedar tree

Being a lizard they lay eggs and need the sun to warm and incubate those eggs.  If you’ve gone for a walk in a pristine rainforest you’ll know that there’s not much warm sunshine under the canopy. It’s very shady and cool.

When an old tree falls over though, it creates a clearing and the sun penetrates to the forest floor creating a warmer place. The dragons take advantage of this and come to the warm clearing to lay their eggs so that the sun can incubate them till they hatch. The dragons stand by their nest guarding it while the sun warms the eggs. Taking advantage of the warmer clearings and using the sun to incubate their eggs helps these cold blooded animals (ectotherms) to live in the shadowy forest.

Roads through the forest are just like clearings. They create warm places.

Forest dragon nest on the side of the road in Border Ranges National Park

Forest Dragon nest on the side of the road in Border Ranges National Park

The roads also draw dragons out of the forest, just like the warm clearings, and the dragons lay their eggs in the forest litter on the verge of the road. We found the one pictured here guarding her eggs only centimetres from the 4WD tracks. Cars were only just missing her. No doubt some dragons and their eggs are squashed by cars. The roads may be constantly drawing female dragons out of the forest looking for warm places and running the risky gauntlet of laying their eggs on the verge of these roads.

When we change a habitat, for example by putting a road through it, adding a desalination plant to it, or, adding a cane toad (Bufo marinus), we need to try to predict what impact it will have.

We need a good understanding of nature and ecology to do that.

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5 thoughts on “The Forest Dragons (Hypsilurus spinipes) of the Border Ranges National Park

  1. I love those dragon photos! Very cool, I don’t know if I’ve actually seen one before (they have no doubt seen me though).

  2. Pingback: Gondwana Rainforests of Australia: a lost world – TalkingNature.com

  3. Hi James . I came across a southern forest dragon (I think )near Murray Scrub a year ago and would like to send you a photo but need an email address to do so (tried attaching to this-doesn’t work) Thanks for your article . Klaus .

  4. Pingback: Harman’s reserve Bushcare group planting day – TalkingNature.com

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